SDSU coach Brady Hoke, AD walk out of conference amid questions about alleged rape by former players

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San Diego State head football coach Brady Hoke and athletic director JD Wicker met with media on Monday and provided statements addressing the gang-rape allegation that led the Buffalo Bills to release former Aztecs punter Matt Araiza on Saturday.

The two then left the news conference amid repeated questions about the allegations after asking media to confine inquiries to on-field topics. Wicker later returned to take questions on the allegations without Hoke.

Hoke and Wicker opened the news conference with their statements. Wicker said that players Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko — who were accused last week in a civil lawsuit alongside Araiza of gang-raping a minor in 2021 — are no longer with the team. Per the suit, the three players allegedly sexually assaulted a 17-year-old who attended an off-campus party in October 2021 at Araiza's residence.

Araiza, an All-American punter, was drafted by the Buffalo Bills before being released Saturday after the civil suit was filed. Wicker declined to provide specifics of Ewaliko's and Leonard's status and said that he wouldn't answer questions regarding them.

"To be absolutely clear, we take allegations of sexual assault seriously and do not support any actions or behaviors that cause harm to others," Wicker said. ... "Under no circumstance would we ever support an environment that supports abusive behavior."

Hoke then followed up with his statement.

"What was reported to have happened should never happen," Hoke said. "Ever. It shouldn't happen to anyone. What has been important to us is that anyone who violates or violated the law or university policies, they'll be held accountable."

Hoke and Wicker declined to discuss specifics about accountability or discipline while citing ongoing police and university investigations. The two then opened the news conference to questions while asking that reporters limit their questions to football as the Aztecs prepare for Saturday's season opener against Arizona.

Per video provided by 97.3 The Fan, Wicker directed questioning about disciplinary policy to a university Title IX web page while reading from a prepared statement. He continued to deflect inquiries about the topic including a question on why the program invited gang-rape survivor and activist Brenda Tracy to speak to the team in 2021.

"Again, we'll take questions related to the game this weekend," Wicker said. "If there are none, we'll end the press conference."

Hoke answered a football question but remained mostly silent throughout the questioning about the alleged gang rape. Wicker continued to cite privacy rights and refer media to the Title IX web page as questions continued. After more than five minutes, Wicker called an end to the news conference. Wicker and Hoke then left the room.

Wicker later returned to address questions, including why the program invited Tracy to speak with the team.

"We brought Brenda Tracy in related to an incident that had been reported to us that SDPD was investigating," Wicker said. "We brought her in for enhanced education of our student-athletes."

Wicker said that the names of the alleged perpetrators of the gang rape hadn't been conveyed to the program at that time. Wicker then addressed a question about reports that SDSU was previously aware of Araiza's alleged involvement in the assault.

"Anonymous reports, hearsay, gossip, whatever," Wicker said. "We did not receive confirmation from anyone that was party to the event until the civil lawsuit dropped.

"Obviously we were very concerned over the alleged report. And again we felt like the San Diego Police Department had the best opportunity at success of adjudicating this, and that's what we went with. It was also a jurisdictional matter because it was an off-campus party."

San Diego State coach Brady Hoke talks to other coaches before the team's NCAA college football game against BYU on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/George Frey, Pool)
San Diego State coach Brady Hoke. (AP Photo/George Frey, Pool)

He also said that SDSU initially declined to investigate the allegations at the request of SDPD.

"SDPD asked us not to investigate," Wicker continued. "If we start asking questions, you can tip someone off."

Wicker described a Los Angeles Times report that an anonymous student-athlete called in a tip amid concern that the program was trying to sweep the story under the rug as "absolutely not true."

"That is absolutely not true that we swept this under the rug because it was football — because we were having a successful season," Wicker said. "That is not who we are. That is not who I am."

Hoke did not return to the news conference to answer questions regarding the alleged assault. Wicker said that it was his decision to return to the news conference alone.

Araiza's family issues statement

On Monday, the parents of Araiza said, via statement, their son was innocent of the sexual assault accusations, and that their family has become the subject of threats since the story was widely reported.

From KUSI, the statement read:

"He has been extorted, discriminated against, harassed and the subject of multiple and continuous threats of violence and death. He has been released from his job and our entire family continues to receive horrific threats of violence and death."

After getting cut Saturday from the Bills, Araiza maintained his innocence.