Content warning: this story contains graphic details of alleged sexual violence.
Matt Araiza, the Buffalo Bills punter who came to prominence in college football as the "Punt God" last season, has been accused of participating in a gang rape of a 17-year-old girl in a civil lawsuit, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The lawsuit alleges that Araiza, then an All-American at San Diego State, had sex with the minor outside his off-campus house while she was intoxicated at a party in October, then brought her inside to a room where she was repeatedly raped by multiple men.
That group allegedly included two of Araiza's Aztecs teammates, Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko. Leonard is still listed on the San Diego State roster, while Ewaliko is not.
There is reportedly an ongoing criminal investigation into the incident, as well as a Title IX investigation at San Diego State. No arrests have been made, but San Diego detectives have reportedly submitted their investigation to the San Diego County district attorney’s office, which will decide whether or not to submit charges.
Araiza's lawyer Kerry Armstrong told the Times he hadn't reviewed the lawsuit, but called the rape allegation false and claimed to have witnesses from the party who contradict the teenager's version of events. Attorneys for the other two players declined comment.
Armstrong called the allegations and lawsuit a "shakedown" for Araiza's NFL money, to which the accuser's attorney Dan Gilleon responded by claiming Armstrong offered them money before Araiza joined the Bills. He also released a screengrab of text messages in which an unidentified member of Araiza's camp asked what payment his client is seeking.
The Bills released a statement soon after the allegations were reported, claiming to have already investigated the matter and declining further comment:
“We were recently made aware of a civil complaint involving Matt from October 2021.
Due to the serious nature of the complaint, we conducted a thorough examination of this matter. As this is an ongoing civil case legal, we will have no other comment at this point."
The Athletic's Tim Graham reports the Bills learned of the allegations last month, after they drafted him. Araiza is reportedly still expected to play in the Bills' preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals on Friday.
Details of Matt Araiza allegations are ugly
In the lawsuit as reported by the Times, the accuser, who is now 18, claims to have arrived at the party on Oct. 16 after drinking with friends. She alleges Araiza gave her a drink she believed to contain intoxicating substances other than alcohol, then took her outside and told her to perform oral sex despite being told she was a high school student.
Araiza allegedly had sex with the girl, then took her to a bedroom where Leonard, Ewaliko and at least one other man were waiting. She claims she was thrown on the bed face first then raped for an hour and a half. Once the party was shut down, she claimed to emerge from the room crying with her nose, bellybutton and ear piercings pulled out and bleeding from her vagina.
The accuser said she told friends she had been raped, then went to the police a day later and underwent a rape exam, the results of which have not been disclosed.
At the request of police, the accuser called the men named in her lawsuit while being recorded by detectives. The lawsuits says Araiza confirmed they had sex, then recommended she get tested for a sexually transmitted disease. When he was asked "And did we have actual sex?" the accuser claims Araiza changed his tone and claimed to not remember anything from the night.
San Diego State allegedly waited to investigate Matt Araiza allegations
While it has been 10 months since the alleged rape, knowledge of the incident was reportedly commonplace at San Diego State within days.
It was reported by the Times two months ago that San Diego State officials opted to not inform the campus of the alleged gang rape and waited more than seven months to open the Title IX investigation.
Araiza's name reportedly surfaced in at least one anonymous report made by student-athletes soon after the party. One athlete reportedly questioned why no investigation had begun and accused officials of hiding the allegations due to the success of the football team, which finished the season 12-2 and ranked 25th in the AP Poll.
From the Times:
“99% of the football players are aware of the 5-person rape so the rest of the student-athletes are left wondering why nothing is being done,” the student said.
San Diego State reportedly defended its decision by saying police had asked the school to not take any action that would compromise the criminal investigation. The accuser was not happy with the excuse.
Bills recently made Matt Araiza their starting punter
The allegations are a dark turn for what had so far been a buzzy professional career for Araiza, who won the 2021 Ray Guy Award for college football's top punter after averaging an NCAA-record 51.2 yards per punt. The San Diego native regularly went viral with field position-reversing punts, garnering the "Punt God" moniker in the process.
Araiza seemed positioned to be the first punter selected in the 2022 NFL draft, but Penn State's Jordan Stout and Georgia's Jake Camarda were unexpectedly picked ahead of him in the fourth round. He eventually heard his name called in the sixth round, landing with the contending Bills. It's unclear if NFL teams were aware of the allegations at the time of the draft.
Araiza's profile continued to rise in the preseason when he unleashed an 82-yard punt.
— NFL (@NFL) August 13, 2022
The Bills officially committed to Araiza as their starting punter earlier this week when they released veteran Matt Haack, leaving the rookie as the only punter on their roster. They did so reportedly knowing about the allegations against Araiza.