New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees apologised on Thursday after his criticism of NFL kneeling protests drew a furious backlash.
In a statement on Instagram, Brees said his suggestion that kneeling to protest racism and police brutality was "disrespectful" to the US flag had been "hurtful and insensitive".
"I would like to apologize to my friends, teammates, the City of New Orleans, the black community, NFL community and anyone I hurt with my comments yesterday," Brees said on Thursday.
"In speaking with some of you, it breaks my heart to know the pain I have caused.
"In an attempt to talk about respect, unity, and solidarity centered around the American flag and the national anthem, I made comments that were insensitive and completely missed the mark on the issues we are facing right now as a country."
As a wave of demonstrations against police brutality and racism sweeps across the US, many athletes have voiced support for former NFL star Colin Kaepernick, who ignited controversy in 2016 by kneeling during the US national anthem.
It has led to speculation that more players may opt to "take a knee" during the upcoming NFL season in solidarity with Kaepernick, who was frozen out of the NFL for his protests about racial injustices.
On Wednesday, Brees triggered an outcry when he told Yahoo that he remained firmly opposed to kneeling.
"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said.
Brees remarks were widely criticised by fellow NFL players and athletes including NBA superstar LeBron James.
Brees said Thursday his comments had "lacked awareness and any type of compassion or empathy."
"Those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy," Brees said.
"This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character.
"This is where I stand: I stand with the black community in the fight against systemic racial injustice and police brutality and support the creation of real policy change that will make a difference.
"I will never know what it's like to be a black man or raise black children in America but I will work every day to put myself in those shoes and fight for what is right.
"I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy. I am sick about the way my comments were perceived yesterday, but I take full responsibility and accountability...I am very sorry and I ask your forgiveness."
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees issued an apology on Thursday for his criticism of NFL kneeling protests