Serie A football clubs AS Roma and AC Milan on Thursday issued a roughly four-week ban on one of the country's leading sports publications, Corriere dello Sport, in response to a frontpage headline that rapidly backfired.
The paper was trying to highlight the success of two black players who left Manchester United in the summer to move to Italy — Romelu Lukaku at Inter Milan and Chris Smalling at Roma. Ahead of the two clubs' meeting on Friday evening, in the San Siro stadium, which AC Milan shares with its city rivals Inter, the paper ran with the headline "Black Friday."
AC Milan and Roma issued a joint statement on Thursday evening saying they "publicly condemn" Thursday's front page, and that they would freeze out the newspaper and its reporters for the remainder of December in response.
"We believe that players, clubs, supporters and the media must be united in the fight against racism in football and we all have a responsibility to be very precise in the words we choose and the messages we deliver," the teams said, also making clear that their short suspension was an intentionally mild sanction. "Both clubs are aware that the actual newspaper article associated with the 'BLACK FRIDAY' headline did portray an anti-racist message and for this reason, we have only banned Corriere dello Sport until January."
Inter Milan, where Lukaku plays, did not directly comment on the newspaper headline or react as of Thursday evening. However, the club did issue a Tweet in English saying: "Football is passion, culture and brotherhood. We are and always will be opposed to any form of racism." Belgium international Lukaku went into more detail himself, calling it the "dumbest of headlines I have ever seen in my career."
The incident comes amid the backdrop of Italy's continued struggles with racism in football stadiums, one which Lukaku has directly addressed after he was jeered with monkey chants during a game.
Corriere dello Sport's editor, Ivan Zazzaroni, responded with an opinion article saying that the criticism, primarily on social media, had been overblown. He also argued that the author's true intention was clear — both in the headline and the body of the article.
"Digital platforms? I would call them rubbish bins. Composed of noble grudges. And cheap indignation ... Armies of right-minded people flock to the internet these days to make their beautiful souls more pure," Zazzaroni wrote of the online response. "'Black Friday,' for those who want and actually can understand it, was and is only in praise of difference, the pride of difference, the magnificent wealth of difference. If you don't understand it, it's because you can't, and can't understand why we do. An innocent title, however perfectly argued by Roberto Perrone, has been transformed into poison by those who have poison inside them."
Perrone's article had sought to praise both players' impacts at their respective clubs, at one point calling them "two colossuses of color."