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Italian sports daily under fire for Black Friday headline

MILAN (AP) — A leading Italian sports daily faced widespread criticism for a headline reading “Black Friday” and featuring two black soccer players on Thursday’s cover. Corriere dello Sport ran photos of Roma defender Chris Smalling and Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku ahead Friday's match between the teams in Milan on Friday.

Both players — former teammates at Manchester United — condemned the headline on social media while Roma said the newspaper would be banned from its training ground for the rest of the month. 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.”

However, Smalling and Lukaku disagreed. "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.” 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.

UEFA said in a statement to The Associated Press that the headline choice was “unfortunate” and was “unlikely to help a mature discussion of the serious issue facing the game and wider society.”

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