Buffalo Bills Dismissed ‘Punt God’ Rookie Accused of Gang Raping a Teenager

The team dismissed Matt Araiza after a 17-year-old publicly sued him. Why was he even allowed to enter the NFL draft, six months after she reported the rape?

Buffalo Bills Dismissed ‘Punt God’ Rookie Accused of Gang Raping a Teenager
Photo:Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images (Getty Images)

On Saturday, the Buffalo Bills cut rookie punter Matt Araiza, two days after he was publicly accused of raping a 17-year-old girl. On the surface, it appears the Bills, and by association, the NFL (a notoriously abysmal environment for women), have shockingly done the right thing. But the details and timelines of Araiza’s case are much more complicated—and suspicious—than the Bills’ seemingly swift dismissal might suggest.

The lawsuit filed last week alleges that Araiza, who was on the San Diego State football team at the time, and two of his teammates gang raped the then-high school senior (called “Jane Doe” in the suit) at a house party in October of last year, while she was “observably intoxicated,” coming in and out of consciousness. Araiza has denied the allegations through representatives. And, despite an investigation by the San Diego Police Department and a Title IX report from SDSU, his name had not been publicly connected to the allegations until the recent lawsuit.

In explaining the decision to release the man formerly dubbed the “Punt God,” Bills General Manager Brandon Beane told reporters that the culture of their team and of their city was more important than “winning football games.” “The last 48 hours have been very difficult for a lot of people,” Beane added. “It’s been tough. And we sympathize with this whole situation, all the parties involved, this young woman, what she went through. Really feel bad for that whole situation. Ultimately this a legal situation, we don’t know all the facts and that’s what makes it hard.”

Initially, it looks as though the Buffalo Bills did something most NFL teams can’t even fathom: the right thing. Many fans even patted the team on the back for their swift dismissal of the alleged rapist, myself included. But taking a closer look at the timeline of all this, I’m realizing that the fact that Araiza was even allowed to enter the 2022 draft in April of this year—six months after the teenager reported the incident to the San Diego Police and the school’s Title X office, according to the Los Angeles Times—suggests that a handful of institutions failed to bring a teenager to justice while allowing her alleged rapist to land a coveted spot in a league watched by up to 208 million Americans.

Let’s back up. The alleged rape occurred on October 16, 2021. The father of the young woman says he contacted university police on October 19 and that they passed it to the police, according to the Times, which first reported the story in June.

The university didn’t launch a Title IX review until nine months after the incident, in July. The resulting report said that one student-athlete questioned whether officials were “trying to sweep it under the rug because our football team is doing so well.”

Meanwhile, on April 29, Azaria was signed to the Bills during the sixth round of the NFL draft. Beane maintains that the team learned about the accusations in late July, though no public action was taken until August. “We tried to be thorough and thoughtful and not rush to judgment,” Beane said regarding the amount of time that passed before cutting Araiza. But according to reporting from the Associated Press, executives from at least two teams said they were aware of the accusations going into the draft in April (on the other hand, three other teams Wawrow spoke with said they, like the Bills, were unaware). NFL.com noted there are individuals whose entire jobs are to vet incoming players like Araiza.

Perhaps you’re unfamiliar with NFL policy, but if a player allegedly rapes someone before he joins a team, technically, he didn’t violate any rules. The league’s personal conduct policy does not account for behavior that took place prior to players joining the NFL, leaving individual teams to make their own judgment call about any alleged behavior.

Of course, the Bills are a member of the same league that recently decided an 11-game suspension was enough to absolve Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson of sexually harassing at least 25 women. But, as many sports reporters have pointed out, unlike Watson who must wait a few short months before running onto the field, Araiza is not a quarterback. The success of the Bills, who are poised for a Super Bowl run this year, does not hinge on the position of a punter. So, of course, it’s wonderful that Beane believes protecting Buffalo’s “culture” is more important than winning games. But it certainly doesn’t hurt that Araiza’s dismissal might not result in losing games anyway. Frankly, it’s easy to publicly support a rape victim when doing so has no larger repercussions for your season.

Sure, perhaps the Bills did the right thing after all. But in the NFL—a league that has proven time and time again that defending women is a decision that must be weighed, measured, and scrutinized so as not to unnecessarily wound the player or the team—the bar is so low that we wind up applauding the league for doing the bare minimum. No one should be getting applause for releasing a player accused of sexually violating a teenage girl. We’ve been conditioned to celebrate when we should be screaming our heads off.

This summer, the woman anonymously told the Times, “All I can really do now is just hope that I can get some sort of justice somehow and feel like people are facing consequences for their actions because I feel like I’ve been facing the consequences for their actions.” And while Araiza seems to have lost his shot at NFL fame for now, there’s no telling how soon he might be making a comeback.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin