New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees says “it breaks my heart to know the pain I have caused” following his opposition to NFL kneeling protests.
Brees was criticised, including by team-mate Malcolm Jenkins, for saying such protests would be “disrespecting the flag” of the United States.
Former NFL star Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the US national anthem in 2016 to highlight racial injustice.
Brees said his comments lacked “awareness, compassion or empathy”.
It comes in the wake of global protests held following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, while being restrained by a white police officer in Minneapolis on 25 May.
Many athletes have also supported Kaepernick, who was frozen out of the league after his protest and has been unemployed since being released by the San Francisco 49ers in 2017.
“I made comments that were insensitive and completely missed the mark on the issues we are facing right now as a country,” said Brees in an apology on Instagram.
“Instead, those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character.”
Brees said he wanted to apologise to his “friends, team-mates, the City of New Orleans, the black community, NFL community and anyone I hurt”.
“I am sick about the way my comments were perceived yesterday, but I take full responsibility and accountability,” he added.
“I recognise that I should do less talking and more listening… and when the black community is talking about their pain, we all need to listen. For that, I am very sorry and I ask your forgiveness.”
In response to comments made by Brees on Wednesday in an interview with Yahoo, Saints safety Jenkins said his team-mate was “part of the problem”.
“Drew, unfortunately you’re somebody that doesn’t understand their privilege,” said 32-year-old Jenkins in an emotional video on social meda.
“You don’t understand the potential you have to actually be an advocate for the people that you call brothers.
“You don’t understand the history and why people like me – people with my skin colour – whose grandfathers fought for this country… I still protested – not against the national anthem – but against what was happening in America and what the fabric of this country stands for.”
Jenkins added: “While the world tells you that you’re not worthy, that your life doesn’t matter, the last place you want to hear it from are the guys that you go to war with, that you consider to be allies and to be your friends.
“Even though we’re team-mates, I can’t let this slide.
“Drew Brees, if you don’t understand how hurtful, how insensitive your comments are you are part of the problem.
“The whole country is on fire and the first thing that you do is to criticise one’s peaceful protest. That was years ago when we were trying to signal a sign for help, to signal for our allies, our white brothers and sisters, the people we consider to be friends to get involved. It was ignored.”