The Tampa Bay Lightning suspended defenseman Ian Cole Sunday for allegedly grooming and sexually abusing a minor, sparking an investigation from the National Hockey League.
Lightning officials released a statement acknowledging the allegations against Cole and said they would fully cooperate in the investigation.
“Our organization takes these allegations very seriously,” the team said in a statement, according to The New York Post. “While we continue to gather more details, we have decided to suspend Ian Cole pending the results of an investigation. No members of the organization, including players, will comment further at this time.”
A user identified as Emily Smith, who made the allegations on Twitter Friday, said Cole groomed and sexually assaulted her and another minor just a few years into the professional hockey player’s career.
“Ian felt emboldened to emotionally and sexually abuse me and other women because the NHL fosters a culture of misogyny,” Smith said on Twitter. “The NHL needs to hold themselves and their players accountable for creating an enabling environment of misogynistic and predator behavior.”
She added that those who “defend his character are the ones who have enabled him to do this for so long and know very well of his abusive behavior toward women.”
— Emily Smith (@emily_smith3333) October 7, 2022
Cole, however, denied the allegations in a statement to The Associated Press, adding that he would cooperate with the league, team, and 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.”
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press Sunday the league launched the investigation, adding that the organization had no prior knowledge of the allegations made until they were posted on social media.
Cole has been playing in the NHL since 2010, where he made his debut with St. Louis Blues for five seasons until the team traded him to the Pittsburgh Penguins, according to The Associated Press.
He has played for several other teams, including the Columbus Blue Jackets, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, and Carolina Hurricanes, before signing a $3 million one-year contract with Tampa Bay.
Cole has won the Stanley Cup twice in his career.