The Buffalo Bills cut the rookie punter Matt Araiza on Saturday, two days after he was accused in a lawsuit of raping a 17-year-old girl last October. The lawsuit also accused two of his teammates at San Diego State of rape stemming from an incident at an off-campus party.
According to a lawsuit filed Thursday in San Diego Superior Court, Araiza, who was 21 at the time, knew the girl was in high school and could see she was intoxicated.
Araiza denied the claims. In a statement released through his agent Friday, he said: “The facts of the incident are not what they are portrayed in the lawsuit or in the press. I look forward to quickly setting the record straight.”
A lawyer for Zavier Leonard, another of the accused men, declined to comment when reached by The New York Times. The third man accused in the lawsuit, Nowlin Ewaliko, did not respond to a request for comment.
Who is Matt Araiza?
Araiza, 22, was perhaps the most noteworthy punter in college football last season. Known as the “Punt God” at San Diego State, he averaged an N.C.A.A. record 51.2 yards per punt in 2021, his junior year. He was also the team’s kicker during his three seasons at the school.
After Araiza won the Ray Guy Award, annually given to the best collegiate punter, the Bills drafted him in the sixth round of the N.F.L. draft in April, well behind two punters selected in the fourth round who had arguably less impressive statistics.
Araiza won the starting job over the Bills’ veteran punter, Matt Haack, in training camp and gained some internet fame for his 82-yard punt in his first preseason game in August.
What is Araiza accused of?
The teen says in her lawsuit that Araiza and two of his then-teammates on the San Diego State football team took turns raping her during a Halloween party at an off-campus house in October 2021, while she was “observably intoxicated.”
According to the suit, she told Araiza that she was attending a local high school at the time of the party. She was under the age of consent, which is 18 in California.
Araiza supplied the teenager a drink and led her to the side yard, where he raped her orally and vaginally, the suit said. He then took her to a bedroom inside the house, where she said a group of men, including the two other defendants in her civil suit, were waiting. According to the lawsuit, Araiza threw the teenager onto the bed face first and “the men took turns having sex with her from behind” while she went in and out of consciousness.
The girl said in her lawsuit that she was raped for about an hour and a half and “stumbled out of the room bloody and crying.”
Kerry Armstrong, Araiza’s criminal defense attorney, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But in an interview on Thursday with a San Diego TV reporter, Armstrong denied that Araiza forced the girl to have sex.
“He is 100 percent adamant that he never forcibly raped this young lady or forcibly had sex with her in any type of way or had sexual relations with her while she was intoxicated, whether it be on alcohol or drugs,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong claimed that investigators who spoke to witnesses said the teenager was not drunk and that she had told them she was a college student. He also said that Araiza is only being named in the case because he has joined an N.F.L. team.
“I think this is a money grab on her part,” Armstrong said. “She sees some dollar signs at the end of the highway.”
Dan Gilleon, who represents the teenager, denied that. He posted on social media a screenshot of an Aug. 1 text in which Armstrong appears to be asking Gilleon what amount of money would get his client to settle. “We ignored the bush-league offer and filed a case,” Gilleon wrote Friday in his post.
Will there be criminal charges?
In her lawsuit, the girl said she reported the incident to the San Diego Police Department the next day and underwent a rape examination at a hospital. According to the suit, detectives from the Sex Crimes Unit set up a tape-recorded phone call between the victim and Araiza, during which he confirmed having had sex with her and told her she should get tested for sexually transmitted diseases, before changing his tone when she asked more pointed questions.
A public affairs officer for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office confirmed that police have submitted their investigation for review. “There is no timeline for how long it will take,” the public affairs officer said Friday in an email.
How have the Bills responded?
The team announced it had cut Araiza in a news conference Saturday night that followed a team practice. “We don’t know all the facts, and that’s what makes it hard, but at this time we think it is the best move for everyone to move on from Matt and let him take care of this situation,” said Brandon Beane, the team’s general manager.
Beane said the team learned about the accusations from the woman’s lawyer in late July, about three months after Araiza was drafted. “We tried to be thorough and thoughtful and not rush to judgment,” he said. “It’s not easy.”
The team told The Los Angeles Times on Thursday that “due to the serious nature of the complaint, we conducted a thorough examination of this matter.”
Gilleon, the lawyer for the accuser, emailed Kathryn D’Angelo, the assistant general counsel for the Bills, on July 31 to inform the team that his client was accusing Araiza of rape, according to a screenshot that was reviewed by The New York Times. Gilleon then spoke to D’Angelo by phone on Aug. 1. Gilleon contacted the Bills after the team drafted Araiza but before it cut Haack.
The team did not ask to speak to the accuser, according to Gilleon’s law firm. The Bills did not respond to The New York Times’s request for details on their investigation.
How has the N.F.L. responded?
The N.F.L. did not respond to several requests for comment. Discipline of players — including suspensions — is governed by the league’s personal conduct policy, which does not cover actions that took place before a player or other employee joined a team or league office. The league has no plans to conduct an investigation.
The Bills may cut Araiza or any other player for conduct it deems detrimental to the team. That broad definition covers many things, including ongoing legal matters. Araiza signed a four-year contract worth nearly $3.9 million, with $216,000 of that amount guaranteed.