The Tampa Bay Lightning suspended defenseman Ian Cole pending an investigation into allegations made on social media that he sexually abused a woman when she was a minor.
The Lightning said Sunday night they were fully cooperating with the NHL on an investigation and were making the decision to suspend Cole until they gather more details. It’s the latest off-ice scandal to rock hockey and bring the sport’s culture into question.
“Our organization takes these allegations very seriously,” the team said in a statement. “No members of the organization, including players, will comment further at this time.”
Cole, in a statement sent by agent Kevin Magnuson, said he completely denies the allegations and will cooperate with the league, team and their legal departments in the forthcoming investigation.
“I take the allegations made against me today in an anonymous tweet very seriously,” Cole said. “I look forward to clearing my name and demonstrating to the NHL and the Tampa Bay Lightning that these allegations are unfounded.”
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press earlier Sunday the league had launched an investigation. Daly added the league had no prior knowledge of the allegations until they were posted on social media.
Cole’s agent did not immediately respond to multiple messages seeking comment.
Among the allegations posted anonymously to Twitter on Friday by an account created last month, the person said Cole pressured her into having sex multiple times when she was a minor after he had reached the NHL.
In the posting, the person accused Cole of emotional and sexual abuse, and said the NHL must hold itself and its players accountable for creating an environment of misogynistic and predatory behavior.
The 33-year-old Cole made his NHL debut with St. Louis in 2010 and played five seasons for the Blues before being traded to Pittsburgh. It was not clear where he was playing when the person said Cole sexually abused and groomed her.
Cole, a Michigan native, has played 780 regular-season and playoff games with St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Colorado, Minnesota and Carolina. He signed a $3 million, one-year contract with Tampa Bay in July.
The investigation of Cole comes as the NHL is in the midst of reviewing allegations made by a woman who said she was sexually assaulted by eight members of the Canada’s world junior team at a gala in 2018. News surfaced earlier this year Hockey Canada settled a lawsuit with the woman. Several players from that team currently play in the NHL.
Talking about the Hockey Canada situation, Commissioner Gary Bettman in July said he did not think hockey has a culture problem.
“I think there are problems that are experienced in all sports and throughout society that are unacceptable and I don’t think we’re any different in that regard than anybody else and I certainly don’t think that’s an issue at the NHL level,” Bettman said at the time. “I can’t speak necessarily to the other levels of hockey. Not to suggest it makes it OK, but there were widely reported other incidents in other sports and conduct that’s unacceptable. I want to hold our game to a higher standard.”
Stephen Whyno/The Associated Press