The Tampa Bay Lightning have suspended defenseman Ian Cole pending an investigation into allegations made on social media that he sexually assaulted a woman when she was a minor.
The Lightning said Sunday night that they are fully cooperating with the NHL in an investigation and are making the decision to suspend Cole until they gather more details. It’s the latest off-ice scandal for rock hockey and calls into question the sport’s culture.
“Our organization takes these allegations very seriously,” the group said in a statement. “No member of the organization, including the 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, the team and their legal departments in the upcoming investigation.
“I take very seriously the allegations made against me today in an anonymous tweet,” Cole said. “I look forward to clearing my name and showing the NHL and the Tampa Bay Lightning that these allegations are baseless.”
Acting commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press earlier Sunday that the league had launched an investigation. Daly added that 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 on Twitter Friday from an account created last month, the person said Cole forced her to have sex multiple times when she was a minor after he had reached the NHL.
In the post, the person accused Cole of emotional and sexual abuse and said the NHL should hold itself and its players responsible for creating an environment of misogynistic and predatory behavior.
Cole, 33, made his NHL debut with St. Louis in 2010 and played five seasons with the Blues before being traded to Pittsburgh. It was unclear where she was playing when the person said Cole sexually assaulted 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 into Cole comes as the NHL looks into allegations by the woman who said she was sexually assaulted by eight members of Canada’s world junior team at a gala in 2018. News broke earlier this year Hockey Canada settled a lawsuit with woman. Several players from this team are currently playing in the NHL.
Speaking about the state of Hockey in Canada, Commissioner Gary Bettman in July said he doesn’t think hockey has a culture problem.
“I think there are issues that are faced across all sports and across society that are unacceptable and I don’t think we’re any different than anybody else in that regard and I certainly don’t think this is an issue at the NHL level. ” Bettman said then. “I can’t necessarily speak to the other levels of hockey. Not to suggest it’s okay, but there have been other widely reported incidents in other sports and behavior that is unacceptable. I want us to hold our game to a higher standard.”