Denver Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski responded angrily Wednesday to a Sports Illustrated article, calling allegations that he made racist remarks "an absolute lie."
One of his attorneys described the article as "terrible, baseless journalism."
The magazine reported that Romanowski, already under indictment on charges of fraudulently obtaining a diet drug, may have distributed drugs to teammates and suggested that a white teammate take the drug as the only way to compete with black players.
The unidentified player told SI that Romanowski used the "N-word."
Sports Illustrated spokesman Joe Assad said the magazine had no reason to question its account. "We stand by our story, we're confident in our reporting and our sources," Assad said Wednesday.
Romanowski addressed his teammates during a team meeting Wednesday morning. Later, at an emotional news conference at which he appeared near tears, Romanowski shared his message.
"I told them that I had had a relationship with someone I considered a friend, and for reasons that I will not get into, the friendship went sour," he said. "And, for some reason I don't know, that person went and told Sports Illustrated something that I supposedly said to him.
"I told my teammates that is an absolute lie. I did not make the statement that they quoted me as saying in Sports Illustrated."
Three people close to the situation, including one of Romanowski's teammates, told The Denver Post they know the informant to be Martin Harrison, a former teammate of Romanowski's in San Francisco who was in Denver's training camp in 1998. Harrison was identified in the SI article as having given prosecutors a written statement saying Romanowski had offered him pills as pre-game stimulants.
Romanowski said he took a polygraph test Tuesday night and passed it.
"I feel very, very strongly about this situation," he said. "It's not in my heart to talk in a way that article said I talked. It's not my value system. It's not what I believe in. These people are my family. These are the guys I go to war with."
Jeff Springer, one of Romanowski's attorneys, said his client was "distraught" about the article about to be published and was determined to "do anything to disprove it. The only thing we could come up with was to take a polygraph."
"He didn't make the statements. I can't believe how this has spun out of control," Springer said.
Springer also noted that the grand jury that indicted Romanowski on other charges refused to return an indictment that he provided drugs to players.
"The only thing he stands charged of is possessing this drg and obtaining it from a doctor in a different name," he said. "So this business about distribution was rejected."
Springer said he also inquired of John Jordan, the chief deputy district attorney, as to whether there was any testimony that Romanowski told a teammate to take a drug to be competitive with blacks.
"John Jordan said, `No, it didn't happen,'" Springer said.
Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said in a statement that Romanowski "is not a racist. Bill has been voted by his teammates as defensive captain three years in a row. This could not happen if his teammates believed he was a racist."
Following the Broncos' practice Wednesday afternoon, Shanahan said the statements in the SI article amounted to "character assassination."
Asked if he thought the incident might fracture his team, Shanahan said, "No, I don't. I think it fractures a locker room sometimes when you don't address these situations, when you leave it in limbo and people speculate and no one really knows what the true answer is.
"Bill wanted to address the team. He was very forthright, very sincere, and I thought he was well-received. I don't think I've ever seen Bill so emotional in my life."
In 1997, Romanowski was fined $7,500 for spitting in the face of San Francisco's J.J. Stokes, who is black, during a game.
At the time, two of Romanowski's black teammates, Shannon Sharpe and Willie Green, said they thought the fine should have been stiffer.
"I think that's the worst thing you can do to a person, especially of our background and our race, is to spit in his face," Sharpe said.
Three days later, however, the Broncos held a team meeting, then presented a united front. Sharpe and Green said afterward they agreed that Romanowski wasn't a racist
On Wednesday, most Broncos players declined comment, but those who spoke felt Romanowski at least deserved the benefit of a doubt.
"I really don't think Romo is a racist," said linebacker Al Wilson, who is black. "I've been around him. I know how he is."
Wide receiver Andre Reed said the issue "can only become a distraction if the team lets it become one. Outside of the locker room, it will take its own course. But I think inside the locker room, we all know we have a job to do, and we quash it and go on."
©2000 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
© 2000 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.