does it matter if what we believe is true?

I admit… it seems a bit of an odd question. Because if we believe it, it must be true… right?

Allow us to focus on the semi-short story of a single young man today, in his early twenties, of Mexican descent, and one who was considered no doubt to soon be among the best in his trade. Truth told, his is not a very common profession. In fact, the top tier in his trade consists of a mere 32 individuals. Suffice it to say, he was good at what he did. 

But they said he made a mistake… a huge one.

It was an off campus party. He was accused of gang rape. Worse yet, the victim was 17. People said some terrible things…

“What is going on… is obviously disgusting.”

“To say that the details are shocking and disgusting is an understatement — and an affront to the words ‘shocking’ and ‘disgusting’… this is beyond vile.”

“This was a horrific crime, the kind of which happens all too often. What makes these crimes different is not only that they were committed by self-entitled athletes.” 

Matt Araiza is a football punter. As a junior in college, he set the record for average punt yardage. He was so talented at such a young age, that even though he didn’t “necessarily love the nickname,” “Punt God” was the colloquial epithet bestowed upon him by avid onlookers.

In 2022 he was selected with the 180th overall pick in the NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. Curiously at the time, two college punters were drafted before him with arguably less accomplished statistics. We would soon learn why.

A few months later, during the NFL’s August preseason, a lawsuit was filed against Araiza and two of his former college teammates for “the brutal gang rape” of a girl under the age of consent in California. Two days thereafter the Bills released the once budding young star. Said their GM at the time, “This afternoon, we decided that releasing Matt Araiza was the best thing to do. Our culture in Buffalo is more important than winning football games.”

Now 10 months and an entire NFL season later, last week the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office announced that “it is clear the evidence does not support the filing of criminal charges.” Not only that, but eyewitness and video accounts show Araiza leaving the party about 30 minutes before the alleged encounter.

The allegations were untrue.

As we sit back and attempt to digest the magnitude of what’s happened, it’s challenging. Matt Araiza’s reputation was ruined. As he said in response this week, “My name will never be the same.”

His name was ruined. His career was halted. He was unable to proceed with his professional gifts because of a lie.

That’s part of quandary of #metoo movement and its societal residue. Just because you’re a woman — just because you’re any specific gender — doesn’t equate to telling the truth/untruth. We are all capable of lying. Each and every one of us. Yes, all sexual assault accusations should be taken seriously. But no, they should not be assumed to be true. 

That’s also the quandary of attempting to determine justice in the court of public opinion as opposed to in an actual court of law. We emphasize emotion over evidence. We think we know what’s true. We can be incredibly passionate. But just because we believe it, doesn’t make it true.

It was American sports commentator Rich Eisen who said of Araiza’s case that “the details are shocking and disgusting.” 

With all due respect, he was correct.