- Warning: This story includes allegation of sexual coercion of a minor and may be disturbing
From the initial accusation against Tampa Bay Lightning’s Ian Cole for sexual misconduct and abuse until the conclusion of the NHL’s investigation, one week passed. There were seven full days from claims from Twitter user @emily_smith3333, a likely alias to protect her real name, that surfaced on Oct. 7 to the NHL’s statement finding “no evidence to substantiate the allegations” last Saturday. It took the NHL a little over one week to get to the bottom of the matter before his suspension was reversed. The only public outreach from the NHL on the matter was a tweet from the league’s official account, posted below, on Friday. The NHL’s statement on the investigation into Cole mentions multiple ways the league tried to contact the accuser.
Ms. Smith claims she was groomed by Cole for four years, starting when she was a minor. Smith claims that Cole was aware she was in high school when he pursued a relationship with her. She also alleges that Cole pressured her into sexual situations without her consent. There’s an additional accusation of Cole bragging about his relationship with Smith to teammates. Whether anyone from that scenario reported it to the league needed to be looked into as well, and we’re assuming all this was done thoroughly over seven full days? And that’s assuming the NHL didn’t have prior knowledge about allegations against Cole and never investigated them. The tweet not only accuses Cole of sexual misconduct with Ms. Smith (he denies the allegations), but she also claims the 13-year NHL veteran was involved with another minor as well.
The legitimacy of the investigation into Cole’s alleged behavior is questionable. Deadspin has made multiple attempts to get comment from both the NHL and the Lightning on the length of the Cole investigation with no response as of this posting. Even the most cut-and-dry cases should take the proper time to vet all information. This isn’t as simple as a speed camera and paying a small fine, whereas radars can check how fast anyone is driving. Multiple serious allegations were leveled against Cole. Unless the NHL is beyond a doubt sure all of Smith’s claims are grandiose bullshit, Cole shouldn’t be near the Lightning team facilities right now. And if the claims have tangible proof of zero factual evidence, where are any countermeasures? That’s what happened in Georgia Tech men’s basketball head coach Josh Paster’s case, per ESPN. Wishing the issue goes away by not drawing more attention to it would be a horrible strategy if Cole’s innocent, with a major emphasis on “if.”
Simple questions the NHL needs to answer deserve to be public information. Let’s start with this: Did the league ask Cole to disclose all possible identities of Emily Smith? Taking the Twitter statement at face value should heavily narrow those choices. The number of 4-year relationships Cole’s had almost assuredly doesn’t exceed single digits. If Cole didn’t provide any names, not accepting that answer is the only response. The impression coming off of this investigation, which matters if reality isn’t clear, is that the NHL didn’t give Cole’s case the proper due diligence.
Giving the Lightning, the NHL, or any other participating team the benefit of the doubt here is foolish. Yes, not every sexual assault claim is found to be truthful or will lead to prosecution from alleged abusers or libelous accusers. What I’m taking exception with is hockey’s repeated pattern of not giving a shit about women, with the latest example being the probe into Cole lasting nine days at a maximum. The NHL saw the promotion of several women into assistant general manager positions this offseason, as if that negates toning down years of sexual misconduct allegations levied against its players. Let’s start with Patrick Kane, Jake Virtanen, Evander Kane, Hockey Canada at large, and others. Both Patrick Kane and Evander Kane have denied all wrongdoing, while Virtanen admitted to having a sexual relationship with his accuser, but denied forcing himself on her. Virtanen was found not guilty. The case against Evander Kane was adjourned and dismissed after he pleaded not guilty. Patrick Kane didn’t have charges brought against him.
There are bad apples in every group, absolutely. Conducting solely a week-long investigation into all the claims made by Ms. Smith looks ludicrous. Resorting to a public tweet asking for a direct message from her account is beyond comprehension.