A rising American cycling star has been suspended after expressing support for President Trump in a Twitter feud with a Dutch journalist.
Quinn Simmons, the reigning junior road race world champion and the junior U.S. road race champion, has been pulled from several upcoming races by the Trek Segafredo team.
His suspension came after a Dutch journalist was critical of Trump on Twitter.
“If you follow me and support Trump, you can go,” the journalist Jose Been wrote in a now-deleted tweet.
“Bye,” Simmons replied, accompanied by Black hand waving emoji.
In a subsequent reply, another Twitter user suggested Simmons supported Trump. “That’s right,” Simmons wrote, alongside an American flag emoji.
Twitter users took issue with Simmons’s use of a Black hand emoji. In a statement, Trek Segafredo said it had suspended Simmons not for his political views, but for “engaging in conversation on Twitter in a way that we felt was conduct unbefitting a Trek athlete.”
In his own statement, Simmons denied racial animus behind the tweet.
“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,” Simmons said. “To anyone who disagrees with me politically, that is fine. I won’t hate you for it. I only ask the same.”
Simmons, 19, had been preparing for a series of one-day races in Europe known as the Classics, that typically take place in the spring but were rescheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Been, the Dutch journalist, said she had never meant for Simmons to be suspended. She deleted her Twitter account on Thursday.
Like much of international sport, professional cycling is reckoning with its own role in social justice campaigns. Several European riders have been suspended in recent years for hurling racial invectives at the few Black members of the professional peloton.
At the just-completed Tour de France, French cyclist Kevin Reza, the only Black rider participating in this year’s edition, was given a place of honor at the head of the peloton at the beginning of the race’s final stage into Paris.