A tweet posted by professional road cyclist Quinn Simmons of Durango led to his suspension by his team, Trek-Segafredo.
Simmons took to Twitter in the wake of the first U.S. Presidential debate and responded to a post from cycling journalist José Been in support of Donald Trump. It was the use of a hand-waving emoji with Black skin tone that led to his suspension.
“Trek-Segafredo is an organization that values inclusivity and supports a more diverse and equitable sport for all athletes,” the team said in a news release. “While we support the right to free speech, we will hold people accountable for their words and actions. Regrettably, team rider Quinn Simmons made statements online that we feel are divisive, incendiary, and detrimental to the team, professional cycling, its fans, and the positive future we hope to help create for the sport. In response, he will not be racing for Trek-Segafredo until further notice. The team and its partners will work together to determine how we will move forward and keep fans and the public informed as to the decisions made in the matter.”
After Tuesday’s hostile debate, Been took to Twitter and said, “My dear American friends, I hope this horrible presidency ends for you. And for us as (former?) allies too. If you follow me and support Trump, you can go. There is zero excuse to follow or vote for the vile, horrible man.”
Simmon’s responded to Been’s post with “Bye,” followed by the Black hand-waving emoji.
The use of Black skin-tone emojis by a white person has recently been considered a “digital blackface.” Public reaction was swift in calling for Trek-Segafredo to punish the young, often brash rider. Many called for Simmons to be “canceled.”
“As an American rider, I have always been proud to represent my country. Riding for an American team has been a lifelong dream. A big reason I chose this team was because of the American values behind it,” Simmons said in a statement. “To those who found the color of the emoji racist, I can promise that I did not mean for it to be interpreted that way. I would like to apologize to everyone who found this offensive as I strongly stand against racism in any form.
“To anyone who disagrees with me politically, that is fine. I won’t hate you for it. I only ask the same.”
Trek-Segafredo added that Simmons “was not suspended because of his political views. He was suspended for engaging in conversation on Twitter in a way that we felt was conduct unbefitting a Trek athlete.”
The Simmons story has now made international headlines and been picked up by the likes of ESPN and Fox News. Fox News political personality Sean Hannity has reached out to Simmons to request an interview. It is not known whether or not Simmons will accept or if the team would allow him to conduct such an interview.
Been deleted her original Twitter post and wrote Thursday that she feels “horrible about the situation and terrible for @QuinnSimmons9 to miss his beloved classics. To suspend him would never be my choice.”
Simmons has expressed his support for President Trump in the past and questioned COVID-19 related shutdowns to sports and businesses.
Trek-Segafredo responded to backlash on Twitter saying it did not condone Simmons’ post.
Simmons was hoping to race in the one-day classic races this fall, including Paris-Roubaix. He is in his first year as a WorldTour pro cyclist after he won the junior road world championship in 2019. His suspension came days after the one-year anniversary of his big win in Yorkshire, England.
Simmons had recently finished second overall at the Tour of Hungary.
He had five races left on his 2020 calendar. Trek-Segafredo general manager Luca Guercilena indicated Thursday morning it is unlikely Simmons will race for the team again this year. He said the team would consult with team owner, Trek Bikes, about a decision regarding Simmons’ future. Trek has faced scrutiny all year for continuing to provide bicycles to American law enforcement.
So far, Trek-Segafredo has supported Simmons despite the suspension.
“We hold all Trek staff and management to a high ethical standard and our athletes are no exception,” Guercilena said. “We believe that Quinn has a bright future as a professional athlete if he can use this opportunity to grow as a person and make a positive contribution for a better future for cycling. We remain committed to helping Quinn as a much as we can.”
The Associated Press contributed to this firstname.lastname@example.org