Let’s Bicker About Full Suspension, Shall We?

Everything about 2020 has been weird, and this of course applies to the professional road racing calendar, which has shifted over such that the both Giro d’Italia and the Cobbled Classics will now correspond with apple-picking season. As I’ve mentioned, I didn’t have time to follow the Tour de France as closely as I would have liked (or really at all), and I don’t expect that to change too much in the next month or so. However, in the interest of taking a cursory look at what’s going on, I decided to check in with the sporting cycling media and learned this:

Here is the “racially charged tweet” in question:

Plenty of people think Donald Trump’s has been a “horrible presidency” and hope it ends. However, plenty of other people think the opposite, and Quinn Simmons would appear to be among the latter group. Furthermore, among the former group there is a pervasive notion that being a member of the latter group automatically makes someone a racist. This is line of reasoning I happen to think is not only flawed but deeply dangerous, precisely for the reason that here’s a team seemingly sidelining an up-an-coming young athlete simply because he happens to support the person who, like it or not, is the president of the United States.

Here’s Trek-Segafredo’s statement on the matter:

“Trek-Segafredo is an organization that values inclusivity and supports a more diverse and equitable sport for all athletes. While we support the right to free speech, we will hold people accountable for their words and actions.

Regrettably, team rider Quinn Simons 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.”

Of course, the team’s decision is not necessary as simplistic as I made it out to be, and according to CyclingTips the real reason for it was Simmons’s use of a “dark brown emoji,” which is apparently a form of “Internet blackface:”

Simmons expressed support for current US President Donald Trump, which in itself was not what landed him in hot water. Rather it was his use of a dark brown emoji, a sort of Internet blackface that, at the very least, shows a lack of racial awareness from a white rider.

Is it though? CyclingTips’s comment notwithstanding, there’s nothing in Trek-Segafredo’s statement indicating the use of a “dark brown emoji” was the issue, and if the team confirmed as much to CyclingTips then the article makes no mention of that. The team’s statement does say he “made statements online that we feel are divisive, incendiary, and detrimental” though, so to assert that this refers specifically to the emoji and not to his support of Trump as CyclingTips does then it must follow that Simmons’s use of the “dark brown emoji” was in fact racist. However, CyclingTips offer only a link to a two-year old NPR piece about a woke teen who likes to use them in support of that conclusion, which is overall seems like a bit of a stretch.

This is not to say that I, a person who is white (surprise!) would use a dark brown emoji on Twitter. (I don’t use emojis at all, but that’s hardly the point.) Nevertheless, judging from the reaction on Twitter, plenty of people are reveling in the suspension and turning on Simmons precisely because he supports Trump:

How much can you like “talented young bike racers” if you drag them publicly because they support a president you don’t? Quinn Simmons is 19 years old; he wasn’t even old enough to vote in the last presidential election. If you’re reading this blog odds are you’re not exactly a millennial. Now think back to when you were 19. How does what you believed then align with what you believe now? Anyway, regardless of what you believed then, or if you still believe it now, imagine the degree of self-important condescension it would take for someone more than twice your age to censure you for it publicly. (Some variation of “I do hope Simmons reconsiders his politics” seems like a more enlightened reproach from an older person who disagrees with a 19 year-old, but of course I understand that nuance and compassion are wildly out of fashion.)

But what if Simmons really is a bigot? Well, CyclingTips do mention an earlier incident. I haven’t seen the exchange, nor have I been able to find anything else that’s been written about it, but here is the account from CyclingTips:

It was not Simmons’ first racially-charged dispute. Shortly after protests over the murders of Black men and women erupted across the United States this summer, American pro Cory Williams, who is Black, posted a series of Instagram posts outlining his excellent junior and espoir results and subsequent lack of selection to US national development programs. The color of his skin, he has said, had played a role in that lack of selection.

“I’ve struggled in my career,” Williams wrote. “I’ve been one of the top cyclists in America even the best at my age at one point. I’ve been national champion and won a stage race overall, won a green jersey, won over 20 state championships and been top 20 at national road races as a junior and never been able to represent America on the national team.”

Simmons responded to Williams via direct message, saying he was simply not fast enough. Williams then used a screenshot to share Simmons’ message with his 85,000 Instagram followers. Simmons later apologized, stating that he was defending Billy Innes, the longtime head of USA Cycling’s development program, not questioning Williams’ ability.

The emphasis on that last bit is mine. Again, I don’t know the details what happened between them, nor have I seen the message Simmons sent to Williams (which he sent privately.) However, on its face that explanation at least sounds plausible–certainly not enough to write him off as a human being, but then again, it is 2020.

In any case, unless there’s something to the contrary in Simmons’s contract, I suppose his team can suspend him for whatever they want. They’re allowed to have their political biases, and if they don’t want a young rider mouthing off to journalists on Twitter then it’s their business. At the same time, this is Trek, who have been under fire from the Twitter mob about selling bikes to the police for months now. So while we’re ascribing motives to people’s actions without any real basis beyond speculation, why not at least consider that this is a convenient performative gesture for Trek that won’t actually require them to put their money where their mouth is?

Just a thought.

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