NHL’s Ian Cole Is Suspended for Allegedly Grooming and Sexually Assaulting a Minor

An anonymous woman alleged that the Tampa Bay Lightning player coerced her into sex while she was in high school.

NHL’s Ian Cole Is Suspended for Allegedly Grooming and Sexually Assaulting a Minor
Ian Cole Photo:Bruce Bennett/Getty Images (Getty Images)

An anonymous woman who goes by the pseudonym Emily Smith alleged on Twitter on Friday that National Hockey League defenseman Ian Cole sexually assaulted her when she was a minor in high school. By Sunday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning had suspended Cole, pending an investigation into the allegations.

Smith, whose Twitter account was created in September and hosts just one tweet, detailed how Cole had groomed, manipulated, and sexually abused her while she was in high school. “It has taken me years to find the courage to come forward and I have decided to speak out anonymously because sadly I feel that this is the only way I can be fully transparent without harassment and retaliation,” she wrote.

Smith said she was “groomed” by Cole for four years, beginning when she was in high school, though she did not specify how old she was or what year the incidents took place. Cole had been playing for the NHL for a “few years” when they had their first sexual encounter, she claimed. Smith maintains that she was underage at this point and that he was “well aware” of her age. “He pressured me into having sex with him that night, even though I made it very clear I did not want to, he would not take no for an answer,” she wrote. “I was too young to understand at the time that pressuring someone into sex was sexual assault.”

Smith went on to detail how, after the first encounter, Cole had sought her number from a friend and repeatedly messaged her about meeting up again. She alleged that he often defied her consent, including his refusal to wear condoms when she had been clear that she wanted him to. The one time Cole did wear a condom, she said, he did so to “humiliate her,” saying, “You’re probably riddled with STDs.” Cole also allegedly made “derogatory misogynistic comments” towards Smith, including bragging about other girls he was sleeping with and showing Smith their texts “to manipulate me to be desperate for his approval and less likely to speak out.”

When Smith got to college, she said, she heard that Cole had slept with another minor from her former high school. Years later, one of Cole’s former unidentified teammates told her that Cole had bragged to his teammates about sexually assaulting a minor the first night he’d met her—seemingly Smith, herself. The teammate was able to recall details Smith said only she and Cole would’ve known. “I was targeted by him,” she wrote.

As far as any involvement with the league, Smith said Cole often asked her to leave school and meet him in a hotel room that the NHL was paying for. On a few occasions, Cole allegedly asked her to bring other girls from her school—something Smith said she refused to do.

“Ian felt emboldened to emotionally and sexually abuse me and other women because the NHL fosters a culture of misogyny,” she concluded. “Those who have defended his character are the same people who have enabled him to do this for so long…and know very well of his abusive behavior toward women.”

While it’s unclear how old Cole might’ve been when the alleged incidents took place, Cole is currently 33 and entering his 13th NHL season, and was 20 when he made his debut in the league in 2010. Cole recently signed a one-year free-agent deal with the Lightning worth $3 million and was expected to be in their lineup for Tampa Bay’s season opener on Tuesday against the New York Rangers.

In a statement, according to ESPN, the Lightning said they are aware of the allegations against Cole and are cooperating fully with the NHL on an investigation, though who will be conducting that investigation is not yet clear. ESPN’s Emily Kaplan reported that Cole’s suspension will be paid. Because the NHL doesn’t have a domestic violence policy, Kaplan said, everything in the league is handled on a case-by-case basis, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman “rarely acts without evidence.”

“Our organization takes these allegations very seriously,” the team’s statement said. “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.”

Cole, in a statement given by his agent Kevin Magnuson, said he “completely” denies the allegations and will cooperate with the league, the team and their legal departments in the 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.”

The allegations come at a time when hockey as an international sport is faced with a larger cultural reckoning. According to the New York Times, the world junior tournament—once a “jewel of Hockey Canada’s schedule”—played in front of a mostly empty arena this year after a sports television network reported that Hockey Canada paid 3.5 million Canadian dollars to settle a 2018 sexual assault lawsuit. The woman who filed the suit said eight members of the world junior team of sexually assaulted her, and Hockey Canada later acknowledged that the settlement money came from a slush fund that had been used to pay another 7.6 million dollars to settle nine sexual assault and sexual abuse claims since 1989. Further allegations of sexual assault emerged involving another national junior team in 2003, six of whom allegedly took turns having sex with an unconscious woman on a pool table.

The NHL is also now investigating the Hockey Canada scandal, as many NHL players previously played in its junior tournament. Additionally, multiple junior players had been convicted on sexual misconduct charges, only to be spared jail time and later signed by NHL teams. In 2021, according to the Edmonton Journal, the Montreal Canadiens drafted a junior player who was convicted of sharing photos with his teammates of his “consensual sexual encounter” with a woman.

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