A major public backlash coupled with the graphic details contained in a lawsuit alleging Matt Araiza’s involvement in a gang rape of a teenager last fall, left Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane little choice but to release the team’s rookie punter on Saturday.
The decision to cut ties with the 22-year-old represents a major reversal for the Bills, coming two days after they backed the player based on the findings of what the team called its “thorough examination” of the allegations filed in the lawsuit.
And it comes less than a week after the Bills – while aware he was the target of a police investigation – cleared the way for Araiza to take over the punting duties by cutting returning veteran Matt Haack on Monday.
“The last 48 hours have been very difficult for a lot of people. It’s been tough. And we sympathize with this whole situation, all the parties involved, this young woman, what she went through,” Beane said during a 26-minute news conference, while seated alongside coach Sean McDermott.
“But at this time, we just think it’s the best move for everyone to move on from Matt and let him take care of this situation and focus on that. So, we’re gonna part ways there,” Beane added.
Beane said the Bills were not aware of the allegations made against Araiza at the time they selected him in the sixth round of the draft in April. And had they known, he said, they would have removed him from consideration.
Araiza’s release begins to ease a crisis which has shaken the two-time AFC East champions. McDermott was visibly upset while discussing the situation following a 21-0 preseason loss at Carolina on Friday night.
“I’m hurt,” McDermott said. “It’s not easy to to hear about some of the things that I’ve heard about over the last several hours say. Haven’t slept a lot to be honest with you.”
The Bills began distancing themselves from Araiza as early as Friday, when he was held out from playing. He instead watched the game from an undisclosed location in the stadium rather than from the sideline along with his teammates.
On Saturday, Araiza was not present for practice even though the Bills said he was on his roster, while at the same time his No. 19 jersey was no longer available for sale on the Bills’ online store after being listed earlier in the day.
Araiza’s only comment since the lawsuit was filed came in a statement released by his agent during the game Friday.
“The facts of the incident are not what they are portrayed in the lawsuit or in the press. I look forward to quickly setting the record straight,” Araiza said.