WASHINGTON (AP) — Gilbert Arenas insists he now understands that “guns and violence are serious problems, not joking matters.”

In an op-ed piece written for The Washington Post and put on the newspaper’s Web site Monday, the suspended Washington Wizards guard pledges to be a better role model and says a “message of nonviolence will be front and center as I try to rebuild my relationship with young people in the D.C. area.”

He continues: “I know that won’t happen overnight, and that it will happen only if I show through my actions that I am truly sorry and have learned from my mistakes. If I do that, then hopefully youngsters will learn from the serious mistakes I made with guns and not make any of their own.”

Wizards coach Flip Saunders supported Arenas’ decision to address the issue this way.

“If he wants to get active in his community and try to help out kids, then he probably needed to say something. … He’s got to go with what he feels in his heart,” Saunders said before his team hosted the Boston Celtics on Monday night.

“In talking to him, I think he understands the seriousness of what he did,” Saunders said. “He’s trying to let people know — kids, especially — that he had done something wrong and try to take what was really a negative and try to somehow have a positive impact.”

Arenas pleaded guilty Jan. 15 to a felony charge of carrying a pistol without a license. He is scheduled to be sentenced March 26.

“I am trying hard to right my wrongs. The one that will be hardest to make right is the effect my actions have had on kids who see NBA players as role models,” Arenas says in the op-ed piece. “Professional athletes have a duty to act responsibly and to understand the influence we have on all those kids who look up to us. I failed to live up to that responsibility when I broke the law and set such a bad example.”

Last week, Arenas was suspended without pay for the rest of the season by NBA commissioner David Stern for bringing guns into the Wizards’ locker room as part of a dispute with teammate Javaris Crittenton stemming from a card game. Crittenton also brought a gun to the locker room — and he also was handed a season-ending suspension by Stern.

Arenas already had been suspended indefinitely by Stern earlier in January; his total ban amounts to 50 games.

A three-time All-Star, Arenas was leading the Wizards in scoring and assists averages when he was first forced to sit out after making light of things, including pretending to “shoot” teammates with his hands during an on-court huddle before a game at Philadelphia.

In Monday’s piece, Arenas says he gave Stern reason to suspend him and acknowledges he damaged “the image of the NBA and its players.” He also says he “let down our fans and Mrs. Irene Pollin, the widow of longtime Wizards owner Abe Pollin.”

Abe Pollin changed the team’s nickname from Bullets to Wizards because of the violent connotations of the old name. He died in November.

Arenas’ op-ed ends by saying: “Some people may not forgive me for what I’ve done. But if I help steer even just one young person away from violence and trouble, then I’ll once again feel that I’m living up to Abe Pollin’s legacy and to the responsibility I owe the kids of the District.”

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