Recently, allegations of grooming and sexual assault were leveled against Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Ian Cole. The allegations were made on social media against the NHL player by an account that was created in September and had sent just one tweet.
Cole was immediately suspended by the Lightning, despite the unusual methodology used and lack of information available on the accuser.
The NHL opened an investigation, and on Friday publicly responded to the Twitter account, asking them to send a DM.
Cole vigorously denied the allegations, and released a statement through his agent, Kevin Magnuson, on the matter.
“I take the allegations made against me today in an anonymous tweet very seriously,” the statement read. “I look forward to clearing my name and demonstrating to the NHL and the Tampa Bay Lightning that these allegations are unfounded.”
He appears to have successfully defended himself, as the NHL released its own statement Saturday announcing that they had closed the investigation and cleared Cole of any wrongdoing.
Obviously, sexual assault allegations must be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly.
However, the nature of these specific allegations, made anonymously on social media without any corroborating evidence, would seem to indicate that the team and league should have approached them with caution.
Instead, Cole was immediately suspended by Tampa Bay.
The Lightning clearly thought that it would be preferable to avoid criticism from sportswriters and the media at large by suspending him instead of allowing him to continue to play.
This sets a precedent that any person can make accusations anonymously on the internet and be rewarded with a suspension and label that could indefinitely follow a seemingly innocent man.
Thankfully, the league quickly resolved the investigation and cleared Cole, but this episode could contribute to future allegations like this against public figures.