An Italian sports newspaper stoked outrage Thursday over a headline reading “Black Friday” and featuring two black soccer players on its cover.
Corriere dello Sport, a daily Rome-based publication, ran photos of Roma defender Chris Smalling and Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku ahead of Friday's match between the teams in Milan.
Smalling and Lukaku condemned the headline on social media.
"Whilst I would have liked to spend the day focusing on the big game tomorrow, it is important that I acknowledge that what occurred this morning was wrong and highly insensitive," Smalling wrote on Twitter. "I hope the editors involved in running this headline take responsibility and understand the power they possess through words, and the impact those words can have."
Lukaku called it the "dumbest of headlines I have ever seen in my career," and added: "You guys keep fueling the negativity and the racism issue."
The newspaper defended the headline as "innocent,'' saying its intent "was only praising diversity" and that it had been "transformed into poison by those who have poison inside."
Roma issued a joint statement with Inter's rival AC Milan saying both clubs "have decided to ban Corriere dello Sport from our training facilities for the rest of the year and our players will not carry out any media activities with the newspaper during this period."
The headline follows a series of racist chants against black players in Italian stadiums, notably targeting Brescia's Mario Balotelli, who was born to Ghanian parents, raised by Italian foster parents and has Italian citizenship.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.