Quinn Simmons has issued an apology through an official statement after his Trek-Segafredo team suspended him for making public comments on social media that the team considered "divisive, incendiary, and detrimental".
Simmons caused a stir on Twitter by responding to a cycling journalist's Twitter post about the upcoming US presidential election, inviting Trump supporters to unfollow her, by replying with an emoji of a waving hand with black skin colour and the message, "bye".
The use of a black emoji by a white person online has been highlighted as racist, but Simmons insisted he did not mean it to be.
"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," the 19-year-old said in a team statement.
"To anyone who disagrees with me politically, that is fine. I won’t hate you for it. I only ask the same."
In the first year of a two-year deal with Trek-Segafredo, Simmons was suspended on Wednesday night.
Today, Trek-Segafredo issued a press statement stating, "Quinn 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 organization stated that it values "inclusivity and supports a more diverse and equitable sport for all athletes."
"We hold all Trek staff and management to a high ethical standard and our athletes are no exception," Team Manager Luca 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 much as we can.”
The Twitter account for Simmons is still active, however, there have been no tweets or replies since the suspension took effect.
Guercilena said during a Giro d'Italia press conference it is unlikely that the American would compete in any more races for Trek-Segafredo this season.