In his first, highly awaited comments since the World Cup final, the France captain only partly explained what caused him to head-butt Italy's Marco Materazzi: Repeated harsh insults about his mother and sister.
But Zidane didn't go into specifics about what Materazzi said. Materazzi swears he never insulted Zidane's mother. And FIFA is still investigating.
Relaxed and soft-spoken, Zidane repeatedly apologized to fans - especially to children - in several interviews on Wednesday, three days after the abrupt, violent act prompted his sending off in extra time of the final won by Italy.
"Above all, I'm human," he said.
The 34-year-old midfielder said he didn't regret the head-butt which marked the end of his 18-year professional career.
"I tell myself that if things happened this way, it's because somewhere up there it was decided that way," he told TF1 television. "And I don't regret anything that happened, I accept it."
Zidane sidestepped questions about exactly what Materazzi said.
"I would rather have taken a punch in the jaw than have heard that," he told the Canal Plus channel, stressing that Materazzi's language was "very harsh," and that he repeated the insults several times.
Zidane and Materazzi exchanged words after Italy broke up a French attack. Seconds later, Zidane lowered his head and rammed Materazzi in the chest, knocking him to the ground.
Zidane was sent off, reducing France to 10 men. Italy went on to win in a penalty shootout while Zidane - an excellent penalty-taker - was in the locker room.
The act of aggression scarred the end of the World Cup, with many warning it would tarnish Zidane's formidable legacy. He retired after the tournament, and he said his decision was definitive.
The French star stressed he felt no regret about his outburst "because that would mean (Materazzi) was right to say all that."
"My act is not forgivable," Zidane said. "But they must also punish the true guilty party, and the guilty party is the one who provokes."
For days, sports fans around the world have been riveted by the question: What could Materazzi have said to set off Zidane in the last moments of his career? Media from Brazil to Britain hired lip readers to try to figure it out, then came up with different answers.
Materazzi has acknowledged he insulted Zidane, without giving specifics. At nearly the same moment Zidane was on TV, excerpts from an interview that Materazzi gave were posted on an Italian paper's Web site.
"I didn't say anything to him about racism, religion or politics," Materazzi told the Gazzetta dello Sport. "I didn't talk about his mother either. I lost my mother when I was 15 and even now I still get emotional talking about her."
Zidane "has always been my hero," Materazzi said. "I admire him a lot."
Despite the head-butt, journalists selected Zidane for the Golden Ball award for best player at the World Cup - though FIFA president Sepp Blatter has suggested Zidane could be stripped of the honor.
FIFA's disciplinary committee opened an inquiry on Tuesday into Zidane's behavior. His red card was not unusual: Zidane was sent off 14 times in his career at the club and international level.
Despite his temper, Zidane is better known for his sportsmanship and dancer-like style with the ball. He is a national hero to the French, and a symbol of a young, multicultural France. Born to Algerian immigrants, Zidane grew up playing on concrete in an impoverished neighborhood of Marseille.
President Jacques Chirac has had only kind words for Zidane since the match - reassuring him that France still "admires and loves him." Many in France have already pardoned Zidane. A poll published in Le Parisien newspaper on Tuesday showed 61 percent of the 802 people questioned forgave Zidane.
Former France coach Michel Hidalgo said Zidane was "touching, dignified and human" in the interviews.
"We have made him into a god, we have canonized him, but he's above all a man, and a man is fragile and breakable," he told LCI television. "He isn't Zorro, or the god of soccer."