On Saturday night, the Buffalo Bills announced that they had released punter Matt Araiza about 48 hours after a civil lawsuit was filed against him alleging that he took part in the gang rape of a 17-year-old in October of last year.
The decision to release the 22-year-old rookie comes after the team previously claimed they had done a “thorough investigation” of the allegations brought against Matt Araiza in the Los Angeles Times article that broke this story on Thursday.
So how did we go from the Buffalo Bills doing their own investigation and allowing Araiza to travel with the team to this Friday’s preseason game to him being released on Saturday?
The chain of events started in July when Jane Doe’s attorney, Dan Gilleon, reached out to the Bills’ assistant general counsel, Kathryn D’Angelo. Gilleon, who made the questionable professional decision to litigate his case through a flurry of tweets on social media, made a public statement that the Bills then never contact him back.
At the press conference on Saturday, Buffalo Bills General Manager Brandon Beane said Kathryn D’Angelo’s understanding “was, she heard what [Gilleon] had to say and that’s when we began our process.” The team did “the best [they] could with [their] resources, talking to the league, using [their] people to try and find information.”
Why that process never included actually speaking to the victim or her attorney further is certainly a valid question. Beane said that the Buffalo Bills didn’t make an immediate decision to release Matt Araiza after hearing from Jane Doe’s attorney because they “want[ed] to give everyone as much due process as you can. Again, we’re not a judge and a jury.”
However, head coach Sean McDermott was quick to clarify that the organization “did take [the victim’s own words] very seriously. I want everyone to understand that. That’s a serious deal right there.”
As the team tried to piece together the events of that evening in October, Beane mentioned that there really wasn’t a lot of information for the team to access being it’s an ongoing investigation. “We probably should have said ongoing [investigation]” Beane admitted. “It wasn’t completed. We don’t have a lot of things right now, we really don’t.”
Because San Diego police have not filed any criminal charges against Matt Araiza at this point, the only information on the case is the version of events from Araiza, the victim, and others who were in attendance at the party in October.
So while the Buffalo Bills conducted their investigation, Araiza remained with the team for a month and a half and even won the punting competition against Matt Haack, who was subsequently released and signed by the Indianapolis Colts.
According to Beane, it wasn’t until the lawsuit was actually filed on Thursday that the team learned of all the details that Jane Doe was alleging.
“When you hear [Araiza’s version], you’re just trying to not rush to judgment,” explained Beane. “You’re trying to use as much time as you can to find out what you can find out. It wasn’t a civil case. There was no criminal case…Obviously, 48 hours ago or sometime around then, a civil case was filed. We read through that and circled back again with Matt.”
Beane admitted that much of what was discussed in the 11-page lawsuit document was not uncovered in the team’s initial investigation: “There was more than what we originally got from Kathryn from her conversation, and it was detailed out in that whatever 11-page deal.”
As for the speculation that the Buffalo Bills knew before the NFL Draft since the victim went to the San Diego police back in October, Beane was quick to shoot that down: “We did not know about this and the league did not know about this…We’ve reached out to, I can tell you, double-digit teams at this point, and no one had anything on this. These names were sealed, wherever the investigation was at that point.”
He stated that, had the team known, they would have never drafted the punter: “You know how important the character and the culture is to Sean and me. And anything that would have been lingering, that would have (moved him) off our board.”
In fact, had the civil case never been initiated two days ago, it’s fair to assume that Matt Araiza would still be on the Buffalo Bills. Beane admitted that the team was “still digging” and McDermott said the team was “trying all along to stay on top of the information that was out there.”
However, we know for a fact that the Bills found out the complete details on Thursday when the rest of the world did. So why was Araiza not released until Saturday?
“Sean and I have been meeting with multiple people ever since…we got our hands on the 11-page document. Our legal team, the league,” said Beane. “I thought Sean made a good decision [at the game] last night to push pause and let us get back here and surround ourselves with people that are the experts.”
There’s some speculation that those conversations with the league were also about whether the Bills would open themselves to any legal consequences for cutting Araiza now. The punter has currently not been charged with anything and the NFL itself has said they would not suspend him. Given how the NFLPA fought back this offseason against the league’s decision to suspend Deshaun Watson, the Bills could have been concerned that the NFLPA would file a grievance on Araiza’s behalf if they felt the Bills were unfair in moving on from him before he had been legally charged with any wrongdoing.
Yet, the team did, in fact, decide to move on from the young punter. Perhaps it was too slow a response for some and perhaps others believe the team’s own investigation was rushed or shoddy in nature. Beane asked that the fans and local community not rush to a judgment of the organization.
“We don’t know what happened. We were not there at this incident. And I would hope that what Sean and I have done here since we got here in ’17 that you know, we’re trying to do our best. We don’t have all the answers. We’re not perfect. But I can tell you, as Sean said earlier, we just tried to do what was right.”
In the end, the Buffalo Bills did what was right. They also likely did so long after they should have.
The team will now begin the search for a new punter as they continue their quest for the organization’s first Super Bowl title. Matt Araiza’s football career is on pause as he and the NFL await word from the San Diego Police Department on whether or not any charges will be brought against him in this case. If so, the 22-year-old will likely find himself in prison, but, if not, he could try to make a return to the NFL.
Given the league’s troubling history with handling sexual assault and domestic violence cases in the past, it’s not far-fetched to assume he would be given another chance. As a result, the complete fallout from this story is far from over.