Buffalo Bills rookie punter Matt Araiza didn't play in the team’s final preseason game on Friday night against the Carolina Panthers, following civil lawsuit allegations that he and two former San Diego State teammates gang raped a 17-year-old girl in 2021.
Araiza traveled with the team to Charlotte, and was at Bank of America Stadium while Buffalo’s other special teams players took the field for warmups. Backup quarterback Matt Barkley assumed the Bills' punting duties.
Araiza released a brief statement during the game Friday.
"The facts of the incident are not what they are portrayed in the lawsuit or in the press," Araiza said, via the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. "I look forward to quickly setting the record straight."
After his team's 21-0 loss to the Panthers, Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott spoke publicly on the Araiza allegations for the first time, affirming he'd learned new information on the case in the past 24 hours despite the Bills saying they had "conducted a thorough examination of this matter."
"I can tell you this, my heart and thoughts and prayers go out to the people involved, right?" McDermott said. "That includes Matt, that includes both sides here, and the victim and everyone involved. Our prayers go out to them."
Araiza, who earned the nickname “Punt God” during his college career with the Aztecs, was accused in a civil lawsuit earlier this week of raping the teenager during his junior season at San Diego State. Two former teammates during that season, Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko, were also named in the litigation.
According to the suit, the woman — whose identity has been withheld in the filings — was allegedly assaulted in October of 2021, during an off-campus party at a house where Araiza was living. The filing stated that the woman had a sexual encounter with Araiza outside the home, and then was taken inside by him to a room where she was allegedly raped by the men. The lawsuit alleges the woman immediately reported the alleged rape to friends and then to police the next day. Araiza was never arrested or charged following that complaint, and the allegation wasn’t ultimately revealed publicly until the filing of the civil suit this week.
While the criminal investigation into the alleged incident began prior to Araiza being drafted by the Bills in April, the team said it only recently became aware of the complaint. The franchise hasn’t specified when it was alerted to the allegations.
“We were recently made aware of a civil complaint involving Matt from October 2021,” the team said in a statement. “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.”
While Araiza is currently on an NFL roster, the league’s rules prohibit action being taken for an incident that allegedly occurred during his college career. That does not limit the Bills from cutting Araiza if the organization deems it necessary during the course of its own investigation.