On Thursday, August 25, 2022, an anonymous Jane Doe filed a lawsuit in the San Diego County Superior Court accusing Bill's punter Matt Araiza, among others, of gang-raping a 17-year-old minor. The plaintiff alleges that this rape occurred during a Halloween party Araiza, who was at the time the punter for the Sand Diego State Aztecs, attended.
Along with Araiza, Doe alleges that two other Aztec players were the main perpetrators of the alleged rape. The complaint also includes allegations of gender violence and false imprisonment.
Matt Araiza has made a name for himself after being picked up in the 6th round by the Buffalo Bills. He earned the Ray Guy Award, which recognizes the best college punter in the country, and was named the Mountain West Conferences Special Teams Player of the Year. Recently, the Buffalo Bills released its veteran punter, paving the way for Araiza to take over punting duties for the team.
Given Araiza's ability to punt the football 70 to 80 yards, he has earned the nickname "Punt God".
With the filing of the lawsuit against Araiza, the punter's future is now uncertain. Araiza’s lawyer, Kerry Armstrong, has publicly stated that his client did not rape the teen and that the rape allegation is false.
The NFL has seen its fair share of players facing legal controversy, including the more than year-long Deshaun Watson saga and the recent developments with Alvin Kamara facing possible assault charges. Despite these stories, Roger Goodell placed neither player on the Commissioner's Exempt List; the NFL's paid leave mechanism.
The Commissioner has the power to place a player on the Exempt List if (1) the player is formally charged with a crime of violence OR (2) "when an investigation leads the Commissioner to believe that a player may have violated this Policy by committing any of the conduct identified above." More specifically, the NFL is looking for those who are "accused of having used physical force or a weapon to injure or threaten another person, of having engaged in a sexual assault by force or a sexual assault of a person who was incapable of giving consent, of having engaged in other conduct that poses a genuine danger to the safety or well-being of another person, or of having engaged in animal abuse."
So why would Araiza be placed on the Exempt List? In the complaint, Doe accuses Ariaza of rape which squarely fits under the NFL's definition of "sexual assault by force." However, the NFL would not be able to use the first prong as neither a prosecutor nor a grand jury has brought formal charges against Araiza. The complaint filed by Doe is civil, not criminal. This means the allegations are not covered under the first prong of the circumstances that would place a player on the Exempt List.
However, the second prong gives Goodell the power to launch an investigation into the allegations surrounding Araiza. This provision in the NFL policy gives Goodell the power to temporarily place players on the exempt list while he investigates the pending allegations. The policy also states that the Commissioner's decision does not reflect a finding of guilt and does not follow the same legal standards of a criminal trial.
The recent filing makes a compelling case for Goodell to use his power as Commissioner to place Araiza on the exempt list for a temporary amount of time while the NFL investigates the allegations in the complaint. As the lawsuit progresses, more may come to light that forces Goodell's hand to place Araiza on the Exempt List.
Justin Mader is a recent graduate of the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law where he earned a J.D. and a Sports and Entertainment Law Certificate. He can be reached via Twitter: @maderlaw and LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/justin-mader-15a602119/.