"Let me start by saying I’m sorry, deeply sorry. I’m so sorry for the pain that I’ve caused and I want you to hear that directly from me. Even though I don’t deserve it I would like to ask for your forgiveness," Pettit said, standing beside about a dozen community leaders. He said he "never thought of myself as a racist."
When asked by reporters if he knew the meaning of the words, Pettit said, "I knew they were wrong, but I didn’t know how or why they were wrong."
"I’m not here to talk about the chant or where I heard it," Pettit said. "The truth of the matter is that the chant is disgusting."
Pettit said that he did not immediately speak publicly about the incident because he wanted to apologize first to the community that he "most impacted."
"The truth is I’ve had a mix of pain, shame, sorrow and fear over the consequences for my actions," Pettit said.
The Rev. John Arethaus Reed, Jr., of Fairview Baptist Church said that he and the other community leaders accepted Pettit's apology, though he said he doesn't condone his actions.
Pettit said he will be "deeply ashamed for the rest of my life" and that the song was a "mindlessly sickening chant."
"It will take me a lifetime to earn [forgiveness] but I’m committed to try," Pettit said.
Pettit said: "There are many things I will need to do to regain the trust of my friends, family and the public at large."
"I understand completely why I have lost this privilege. However, I do want to find a positive outcome from this awful situation," he added.
State Sen. Anastasia Pittman, a Democrat, University of Oklahoma alum and chairwoman of the Oklahoma Black Caucus, hosted the press conference at Oklahoma City's Fairview Baptist Church, The Dallas Morning News reported. Before the event, Pettit was expected to spend an hour behind closed doors with pastors, politicians and African-American community leaders, according to the newspaper.
“I received an apology from him, and I believe it’s sincere,” Pittman told The Dallas Morning News. “But I told him it’s not about me, and that community leaders would need the same courtesy, so if he’s going to apologize to me, I’d rather he apologize to civic leaders, pastors, people who resonate with the pain.
Pittman did not respond to a request for comment from ABC News.
According to The Dallas Morning News, Pittman said Pettit and his family contacted her after she said in a March 9 statement that she was “disheartened at the obvious lack of tolerance for diversity within these student fraternities.”
The university expelled two students on March 10 involved in this incident. A university spokesman, Corbin Wallace, told ABC News today that the university can't specify the students' names, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The university, according to Wallace, declined to comment about today's press conference. The university's investigation is still ongoing regarding the incident, according to Wallace.
Brandon Weghorst, a spokesman for the national Sigma Alpha Epsilon organization, said the University of Oklahoma members are still suspended awaiting hearings by the national organization, which disbanded that chapter.