(This story was published in 1999).

Updated 01/10/02: In the story below, Stewart is circumspect about his orientation. But in the Jan. 14, 2002, issue of Sports Illustrated, in a feature on Stewart’s on-field renaissance, the writer, Michael Silver, addressed the gay issue this way:

Some Steelers admit they were fazed by rumors that Stewart was gay, until he called a meeting before the 1999 season and issued a denial that included graphic descriptions of heterosexual acts he enjoys. “I could see the humor in the situation,” Stewart says, ”so I decided to have some fun with it. At one point I said, `You’d better not leave your girlfriends around me, because I’m out to prove a point.’ A couple of guys said, `F*** you, Kordell,’ and we all cracked up.”

Our reaction to the Sports Illustrated piece? We still don’t know the whole Stewart/sexuality saga and his denial does nothing to clear up the issue. Most bothersome is that he felt he had to prove his heterosexuality by describing graphic sexual acts, as if that’s the “smoking gun,” so to speak. What does this say about the way Stewart views women?

12/3/1999: Kordell Stewart said Friday he met with his Pittsburgh Steelers teammates last year to assure that talk about his off-field life didn't cause a slump that has continued into this season.

Stewart, who has declined previously to discuss his life away from football, said the meeting was prompted by friends who told him of rumors circulating about his personal life. Earlier this season, a story in Sports Illustrated referred to fans' speculation about his sexual preference.

``I was a guy who stood up in front of the team and just said, basically, this is what's going on,'' Stewart told KDKA radio in Pittsburgh. ``A rumor is a rumor, you look it up in the dictionary it will tell you exactly what it means. I'm Kordell Stewart, the guy who worked with you guys and … has made some great plays around this place. And I don't want any fan or any knucklehead outside of this organization make you feel any differently about me as a player.''

Stewart, who is single, also met with coach Bill Cowher and team president Dan Rooney to discuss the rumblings about his personal life, team sources told The Associated Press.

`The rumors can be real nasty sometimes, believe me. When you're out there on the field and you hear some of the things that are said, it can be real nasty. … It can cause you to be bitter,'' he said.

Stewart blamed his two-year slump on the loss of a number of free agents, including wide receivers Yancey Thigpen, Ernie Mills and Charles Johnson. After making the playoffs for six straight seasons, the Steelers (5-7) are 12-16 the last two years and have lost 12 of their last 17.

Only two years ago, Stewart took the Steelers to the AFC championship game, throwing 21 touchdown passes and running for 11 touchdowns. But his production has dropped off appreciably — he has six TD passes and two TD runs this season — and he was benched after throwing two interceptions in a 27-20 upset loss Sunday to Cincinnati. He played wide receiver in Thursday's 20-6 loss at Jacksonville, making three catches for 21 yards.

Stewart probably will not play quarterback again this season, but said he fully expects to return there and start next season.

"I let a lot of things get to me,'' Stewart said of last season's slide. "Having such a great year the year prior, to experience the things I was experiencing, it was hard. It took its toll on me, but it made me a stronger man and a stronger player.''

Stewart, who had a beer dumped on him by an unhappy fan last season, said he isn't affected by the booing. But he wonders if the Steelers — 1-4 at home — still might have a home field advantage if their fans weren't so critical.

"I think we forget it's a game. It's entertainment. It's not life or death,'' he said. ``It seems the only time they appreciate you is when you're laid out on a stretcher, and everybody worries, `Is he OK?'

"I think people here really take it too seriously. I think we need to recognize that it is fun and we can still have that ambiance around here. … But if you don't relax, you're never going to win a Super Bowl around here.''

Stewart also defended Cowher, who is also the subject of rumblings about his future. ``He is a really intense guy, but he does nothing but motivate his players to go out and play well,'' Stewart said.

``To bash that man, when he's done nothing wrong and has tried to create a team to go to the Super Bowl … yes, free agency has probably caught up to us, let's be realistic, but the truth of the matter is the man is a good coach.

``What he does in his personal life is his business, but how he handles me and how he's been talking to me since I've known him, the man is a man. He's a man. … When you lose, you allow the demons and all the crazy things to come in, and it can cause certain things to happen and cause a little friction in the household. But if you're strong enough as a team and a staff, you won't let that happen.''