The 19-year-old American’s response to a tweet about U.S. President Donald Trump triggered a backlash on social media, with people calling for a boycott of the bike brand.
In a post on Twitter about the recent US presidential debate, cycling journalist Jose Been 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,” Been added, to which Simmons replied with a hand-waving emoji with a Black skin tone.
Such use of an emoji is considered the internet equivalent of blackface, or 'digital blackface' as it has been coined.
In Trek-Segafredo's second statement about the suspension, Simmons apologised to anyone offended, saying he didn't intend the use of the emoji to be racist, but did not explain why he indeed did use it.
“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 apologise 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.
Simmons, who joined the World Tour team this year after winning the 2019 junior road world championship, said in a team statement: “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.
Trek-Segafredo condemned Simmons’s comments, saying they valued inclusivity and diversity.
“While we support the right to free speech, we will hold people accountable for their words and actions,” the team said in a statement.
“Regrettably, 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.”
Team manager Luca Guercilena said Simmons’s season was probably over.
“As of today, the rider is suspended and we are deciding on the length of the suspension but we can’t deny that with five races left this season, the probability that he will race again this year is remote,” Guercilena told a news conference ahead of the Giro d’Italia.