"I was wrong," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "What I should have said is for all athletes it is really tough to get into Notre Dame."
During a radio interview Tuesday night in Detroit, he told WXYT-AM that Notre Dame has to "ease it up a little bit" on its standards.
"We can't stay as strict as we are as far as the academic structure is concerned because we've got to get the black athlete," Hornung said. "We must get the black athlete if we're going to compete."
Hornung, who is white, said in the AP interview Wednesday that he changed his mind after being flooded with telephone calls from friends and media.
"I stood by my comments, but then when you have time to reflect you can always come up with some ideas," he said. "I rethought it and if I had to do over again I wouldn't."
Hornung won the Heisman Trophy in 1956 while at Notre Dame, where he earned the nickname "The Golden Boy." He went on to become a star in the NFL and won four championships for Vince Lombardi's fabled Green Bay Packers teams of the 1960s. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Notre Dame spokesman Matthew Storin called Hornung an illustrious alumnus but objected to the comments he made Tuesday. "They are generally insensitive and specifically insulting to our past and current African-American student-athletes," he said.
The academic standards at Notre Dame have long been discussed as a reason why the school's teams are not consistent winners. The Irish have gone 15 seasons without a national championship, the second longest drought in school history.
Of the 68 scholarship players on the Notre Dame roster for spring practice, 35 are black and 33 are white. Of the incoming freshmen, 12 are black and five are white. If no one leaves the program, 55.2 percent of Notre Dame's football players next season would be black.
According to the latest NCAA statistics available, during the 2001-02 season, the percentage of Division I-A football players who were white was 48.8 percent and 43.8 percent were black.
By Tom Coyne