Thursday afternoon, the L.A. Times released an article naming two former SDSU players, Matt Araiza and Pa’a Ewaliko, and one current player, Zavier Leonard, as defendants in a civil suit alleging they sexually assaulted a teenage girl at an off-campus party in October 2021. The article was the first to publicly name the alleged perpetrators of the crime.
The East Village Times reached out to multiple sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. All the sources are people currently outside the program but who were part of the team when the incident took place.
Collectively their insights gave details into the handling of the alleged incident inside the football program. Every person contacted had heard rumors about the incident before the original LA Times article came out it on June 3. When and what they heard varied, with some knowing only “extremely vague” rumors, others knew the situation was serious, and others knew the name of one of the people mentioned in yesterday’s LA Times article.
To date, no criminal charges have been filed, which multiple sources said surprised them. Everyone who had heard the rumor expected the police to make arrests in a matter of weeks.
Shortly after the alleged incident, the staff brought in a guest to address the team. The speaker was a survivor of sexual assault and shared her experience with the players. Sources present at the seminar described the presentation as powerful.
Afterward, the players spoke more openly about the rumor, wondering what the coaches knew about it. It was the only time a speaker had been brought in mid-season like that, and they knew it could not be a coincidence. In doing so, the coaches guaranteed the rest of the season would be played under the shadow of the allegations with the accused players “living scared,” as one source described.
On August 9, SDSU President Adela de la Torre, in an op-ed to Union-Tribune, said, “…SDSU staff and coaches have offered more education and training on topics of sexual assault prevention,” Presumably, the seminar listed above is among the “training” de la Torre’s letter references.
Highlighting the challenge the university faced in holding its students accountable is the changing nature of the number of players allegedly involved. One rumor put the alleged perpetrators at six football players. The LA Times listed five in the title of the original article. The civil suit filed yesterday named three.
At the time of the alleged incident, only Araiza played consistently for SDSU out of the three named players. He was on the cusp of notoriety that would see him win the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s top punter. As his star rose, rumors of the incident followed him on social media. One Twitter account, which is now deleted, had the handle @mattaraizaisarapist.
With the public nature of the accusations, it is doubtful some NFL teams were unaware, which could have led to Araiza’s fall in the NFL Draft. Following the L.A. Times article, the Buffalo Bills, who drafted Araiza in the sixth round, released a statement:
“We were recently made aware of a civil complaint involving Matt from October 2021. Due to the serious nature of the complaint, we conducted a thorough examination of this matter. As this is an ongoing civil case, we will have no other comment at this point.”
Tim Graham, senior writer for The Athletic covering the Bills, tweeted last night that a source told him that the Bills did not know about the allegations when they drafted Araiza but were made aware last month. He later added via tweet that Araiza traveled with the team and is expected to play in their final preseason game against Carolina on Friday night.
Araiza’s lawyer spoke CBS 8 San Diego to discuss the incident.
Ewaliko was with the club during spring but left the program before the beginning of fall camp. Leonard began camp in the competition to start at left tackle but was playing with the second team in the scrimmage two weeks ago and did not play in the scrimmage on Saturday. The only comment to this point by the football team has been a statement in the opening press conference of fall camp on August 3.
@AztecFB head coach Brady Hoke issued this statement at the start of his press conference with the media today regarding off-campus incident being investigated where a female alleged sexual assault by SDSU football players. Hoke did not take any questions regarding this subject. pic.twitter.com/PAQ60c3oAj
— Andre Haghverdian (@ahaghver23) August 3, 2022
For a program that prides itself on doing the right thing on and off the field, the allegations alone provide a terrible contrast to the stated goals of the team. As the Aztec football team prepares for its 100th season, this ongoing saga presents a difficult dilemma for everyone surrounding the team.
“If you are part of Aztec football, player, fan, or someone who covers the team, what are you supposed to do,” one source said. “Staying silent is the wrong thing to do but sharing it with everyone without knowing every detail isn’t correct either.”