What took so long?
The Buffalo Bills finally sent punter Matt Araiza into the night without a job to face legal ramifications stemming from the alleged gang rape of a minor during his final year at San Diego State.
This move came on Saturday, two days after the woman filed a civil suit against Buffalo’s sixth-round pick and two of his former teammates, and the sordid case exploded on the national radar.
Shamefully, the Bills’ brain trust made the decision to detach themselves from a player accused of a heinous crime only after the lawsuit became public. Criminal charges have not been filed, pending an ongoing investigation that the San Diego police have turned over to the District Attorney.
To hear Bills GM Brandon Beane explain it, the team became aware of the allegations in late July, when the woman’s attorney, Daniel Gilleon, informed Buffalo’s counsel. Beane also said it was possible that the team first heard about the allegations from Araiza himself, who apparently learned earlier this summer that he was being investigated.
Beane maintained that he wasn’t sure whether he heard it first from Araiza or the attorney. But the GM was certain that they talked to the punter about it around the same time the attorney reached out.
So get this: The Bills put more stock in the word of an accused rapist than they did in the word of a traumatized girl apparently seeking justice, and kept the punter on their roster.
“We were trying not to rush to judgment,” Beane said during a news conference on Saturday night at the team’s headquarters. “Obviously, Matt’s version was different. You want to give everyone as much due process as you can. We’re not a judge and jury.”
That sounds a lot more cold-blooded when you consider details from the 11-page lawsuit that alleges Araiza coerced an apparently inebriated minor into oral sex last October at a party at his house near the San Diego State campus. The lawsuit says he then took the girl to a room where he and other players allegedly took turns raping her.
Did the Bills even take the accusations seriously?
“I would say we did take them very seriously,” coach Sean McDermott said. “I want everyone to understand that. That’s a serious deal right there.”
Just not serious enough to rush to some sort of judgment about having an accused rapist on the roster.
Sometimes, you need to rush – if not a rush to judgment then a rush for more information. Or a rush to hit the pause button. The seriousness of the allegations warranted at least that.
Araiza’s attorney, Kerry Armstrong, has characterized the suit as a “shakedown” for money.
Beane contended when the news broke on Thursday that the Bills were conducting a “thorough examination.” It was so thorough the team didn’t follow up with the girl’s attorney.
It makes me wonder whether the team, co-owned by Kim Pegula, one of the highest-ranking women in the NFL, would have moved without the tsunami of pressure that unfolded when the allegations became public. If the Bills, who have made so many shrewd moves in building a Super Bowl contender, could have gotten away with keeping Araiza, at least while their “thorough examination” continued, it sure looks like they would have.
But this one backfired as a damaging hit on their process and credibility.
Although Beane has used the word “thorough” ever since this firestorm began, he also admitted on Saturday that “we don’t have a lot of things.”
He was talking about facts, but not very convincingly. The lawsuit maintains that Araiza confirmed during a phone call with the accuser, recorded by detectives, that he had sex with the minor and recommended she get tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
It’s conceivable that the Bills were not aware of Araiza’s apparently incriminating communication with the accuser. While Beane said there were some things, on the advice of counsel, that couldn’t be discussed at the news conference, he also defended the “thorough” investigation by maintaining that without it being a criminal case, there was some information the Bills are not privy to.
“Right now,” Beane said, “there are a lot of things we can’t close the loop on.”
Well, they’ve closed the loop on Araiza after what Beane described as an agonizing 48 hours.
Just 48 hours. Considering the allegations, it should have been an agonizing month – and much longer for the accuser.
And just think of the agony of the girl.
You’d think the Bills and the NFL, with all of its investigative muscle, could have advanced the ball on this matter before now. Beane maintained that Araiza was never red-flagged during the pre-draft process, which is typically bolstered by reports from NFL Security, in addition to team security and investigative efforts. Beane said he talked to at least 10 other teams in recent days to deduce whether they had any information about off-the-field matters attached to the player who went by the nickname, “Punt God.”
At least the teams that Beane talked to had nothing, he said. And if the Bills, for all of the pronouncements about culture, did know something before the draft?
“Anything lingering would’ve been off our board,” Beane contended.
But once something lingering came to their attention in July, the Bills were still on board with Araiza, who a few days ago won the job as the starting punter.