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American Quinn Simmons on Friday addressed the media for the first time since his suspension in September 2020 for posting a Black hand emoji on Twitter during a back-and-forth with a Dutch cycling journalist regarding then U.S. President Donald Trump.
Simmons, 19, said the use of the Black hand was a reference to a pop-culture meme from the 1995 comedy film ‘Friday,’ in which actor Ice Cube says “Bye, Felicia” to a character in the film, while the actor Chris Tucker waves his hand goodbye.
“Honestly, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the joke, ‘Bye Felicia’ from a movie a while back,” Simmons said. “This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this. It’s definitely a pretty common joke that I’ve seen on social media before, and something I’ve sent to my friends before as a joke. I thought it was something that was more well-known — the ‘Bye, Felicia’ scene being used. Honestly, it wasn’t really a conversation I had in my head [to use the emoji]. It was the most-recently-used emoji color. When you type it in it goes to your most recent one. I had used it before for the same purpose, and when I went to click on it, it wasn’t really even a thought.”
Both Ice Cube and Chris Tucker are Black. Simmons is white.
A quick search on Twitter revealed hundreds of references to #byefelicia by both white and Black Twitter users. In a 2015 interview with comedian Conan O’Brien, Ice Cube addressed the popularity of the meme and offered his definition of the reference: “‘Bye Felicia’ is the phrase to get anybody out [of] your face that’s saying something stupid.”
In recent years the use of Black memes, emojis, and GIFs by white social media users has come under fire, with the term “digital blackface” being used to define the practice. In a 2017 video for the BBC, writer Victoria Princewill defined digital blackface as, “white people using GIFs to perform some kind of exaggerated Blackness. And that’s not all. Let’s talk about white people using dark-skinned emojis. This is a form of cultural appropriation.”
Simmons said he had changed his phone’s settings so that the Black hand emoji no longer appears as the first option, and that he does not intend to use the “Bye, Felica” reference again on social media. Simmons also said he had never heard of the term “digital blackface.”
Simmons said that he still does not understand why people were upset about his use of the Black hand emoji, or his reference to the “Bye Felicia” quote.
“If I’m honest, no, not really. This whole concept of this digital blackface, or whatever they want to call it, I had never even heard of that, and I think the majority of the population hadn’t heard of it,” Simmons said. “If this had been two months earlier, and not in the middle of an election in the U.S., I think this would have been a non-issue. This is really something new that I don’t fully understand, and I think a lot of people don’t understand. Obviously, what I’ve learned is to not do it again and to stay away from this type of discussion. But, the whole why behind it, really is — I could never have imagined this.”
Trek-Segafredo suspended Simmons for the tweet, describing it as “divisive, incendiary, and damaging.” In the wake of the suspension, the team published an apology from Simmons, in which he said that he didn’t intend the emoji to be seen as a racist gesture.
“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,” the apology said.
Simmons said that the two-month racing suspension by the team was the biggest official fallout from the social media posting. He said that the entire team underwent social media training in the offseason to address how to and how not to use platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
“We had a whole media training for the entire team at camp this year — everybody knew it was thanks to me,” Simmons said. “At the end of the day the focus is to get back racing my bike, and that’s what I’m here to do. I’m not here to post on Instagram, I’m here to race my bike.”
Simmons also said he disagreed with the team’s decision to suspend him. A Trek-Segafredo media representative said that the training focused on “thinking before posting and avoiding unnecessary conflicts” among other topics. Another Trek-Segafredo representative said that Simmons and other team members participated in an online training around diversity and inclusion. The hour-long module put the riders in different scenarios where they were asked to assess options and actions.
For 2021 Simmons’ racing campaign includes Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders, and other major classics. Simmons conducted his call ahead of his 2021 racing kickoff at the Faun-Ardèche Classic and Bernard Drome Classic in southern France. Simmons said his goal for the season is to help Trek-Segafredo earn top results in the big one-day races.
“Ideally, if I could be one of the last guys with them in the final of a big race — the dream would be to come into the final of Flanders with three or four of us together,” Simmons said. “If I could play a role that sees Jasper (Stuyven) or Mads (Pedersen) winning their first monument, I think that’s a really good step for me and a really good step for the team.”
Simmons won the 2019 UCI junior world road race championships and jumped to Trek-Segaredo for 2020. He has been public online about his politically conservative views. On Friday Simmons said he would no longer discuss his political views in interviews or on social media. When a cycling journalist asked him how he felt about the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, in which Joseph Biden Jr. defeated Trump, Simmons declined to comment.
“At the end of the day, the biggest feedback from both sides of what happened is that people don’t really want to hear about politics in sports,” Simmons said. “They come to our pages and watch our team because they love our bike, and they love to ride the bike and watch it. My job is to represent the team, both on and off the bike in a way that promotes cycling. I’m not a political commentator, and as a general rule for all athletes, it’s probably a place to stay out of. If you look at the comments on any political article or argument around sports, generally the fans are here to watch. It’s supposed to be a distraction from the real world. I don’t think anyone ends up happy and nobody really wins.”
Simmons’ social media post, and the social media habits of countrywoman Chloé Dygert, sparked a sport-wide conversation on inclusivity and racism. Pro rider and activist Ayesha McGowan discussed both riders and their respective suspensions in a lengthy blog post.
“This is the first time I’m seeing any consequences whatsoever for racist behavior,” McGowan wrote. “And if we’re being honest, these consequences are bandaids on bullet holes.”
When asked if he believes he has a problem with racial bias or inclusivity, Simmons said no.
“This wasn’t even a racial issue — the internet made it a racial issue,” Simmons said. “This was a conversation between me and a white journalist. There’s no race involved. The discussion wasn’t about race. That’s why, for me for it to become a racial issue, I’m really confused by that. I can see people not liking Trump or whatever, but to make it an issue of race, that wasn’t in the discussion. It was a discussion between two white people. It’s completely irrelevant.”