SDSU athletic director says it’s ‘absolutely not true’ that football program ignored rape allegations

SDSU Director of Athletics John David Wicker at news conference Monday
John David Wicker, director of athletics at San Diego State University, speaks at a news conference at the school Monday regarding rape allegations against three former Aztec football players.
(Adriana Heldiz/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The director of San Diego State University’s athletics department said Monday that the school had not ignored allegations that members of its football team had been accused of gang-raping a 17-year-old girl last fall.

“That is absolutely not true,” John David Wicker said during a news conference that moments earlier turned tense when Wicker and head football coach Brady Hoke refused to answer questions and then walked out. Wicker later returned and spoke.

“We will hold any student and coach, any staff member to be held responsible for anything that is confirmed and adjudicated,” he said. “It is absolutely not true that we swept this under the rug because it is football and because we were having a successful season. That is not who we are. That is not who I am.”


Wicker’s comments came during his first news conference since the young woman filed a lawsuit in San Diego County Superior Court last week. The suit comes as the school celebrates the start of its 100th football season. The first game is Saturday in the new $310-million Snapdragon Stadium in Mission Valley.

According to the complaint, the girl was 17 and a senior in high school when she said she was raped by several men — all strangers to her — at an off-campus house party in October.

She reported the incident to San Diego police the next day. Her father also spoke with San Diego State University Police a day later. San Diego police asked the university to hold off on an administrative inquiry out of fear it would affect the crime investigation. SDSU agreed.

But the university was also getting word of the incident through an internal reporting system for student-athletes, who said they’d heard the rumors.

News of the gang-rape allegations initially broke with a Los Angeles Times story in June.

The lawsuit alleges that punter Matt Araiza, then 21, had sex with the teen in a side yard of a College Area residence before bringing her into a bedroom where a group of men took turns raping her over the course of an hour and a half. Players Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko were part of the group, according to the lawsuit.

Araiza had been drafted by the Buffalo Bills, who released him Saturday. That same day, Leonard, a redshirt freshman from Arlington, Texas, was dropped from the SDSU roster. Ewaliko left the team shortly before preseason practice started Aug. 5.


Monday’s sit-down with Wicker, Hoke and several reporters started with the athletic director and the coach issuing statements regarding the allegations. A school official began the news conference by saying the two men would not take questions about the incident but would talk about football and the coming season.

But it immediately turned tense, with reporters repeatedly asking questions about who knew what about the alleged rape and when, and why the school did not move to address the matter internally. Wicker and Hoke then walked out of the news conference.

About 15 minutes later, Wicker returned and answered questions related to the allegations. One reporter asked if he felt betrayed that something like the allegation happened considering all the good things that have happened in the program.

“No. Again, one of our pillars is to create great human beings, and ...” Wicker said. He paused for seven seconds before he continued.

“It’s hard when the training you provide may not have been enough. So, we do great things. We have great student-athletes in this building. We have great coaches. We have great staff. We do a phenomenal job.

“And, you know, we all know the actions of a few can potentially harm the greater group.”