Michael Phelps Made a “Bad Mistake”

Betsy Waldman / March 13, 2009

Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps has given his first interview about the notorious photograph depicting him using a bong that was published in Britain’s News of the World.

“I knew that I’d made a mistake and a bad judgment,” Phelps tells Matt Lauer in an interview that aired on the Today show this morning, and that will also be seen on Sunday’s Dateline on NBC.

Phelps was photographed using a bong to reportedly smoke marijuana at a University of South Carolina in November.

The 14-time gold medalist says that he knew about the photos before they went to press, after someone e-mailed him, as reported by Us.

And I had no idea really what to do. You know, I knew that I’d made a mistake and made a bad judgment,” he says. “And it was an awful judgment. The people I hurt, you know, is my family, clearly. My friends. The close people around me. And most importantly, the fans. And– and, you know, I realize that that hurt a lot of people,” he says.

Phelps lost endorsement deals with Kellogs, and was suspended from swimming for three months.

“It’s not about money to me. So, you know, the contract side of things, yeah, I was disappointed,” he says. “But, you know, I think the biggest thing is who I hurt the most. Like, if I lost money, okay. It’s not an issue with me.”

Phelps went into details about the party, saying that it was a small gathering and there were only two or three individuals present that he didn’t know.

The swimmer was cagey about his actual drug use, admitting his misstep but not actually acknowledging that he was smoking marijuana.

“It was a bad mistake. I mean, we all know, you know, what you and I are talking about. It’s a stupid mistake,” he said. “You know, bad judgment. And it’s something that, you know, I have to, and I want to teach other people not to make that mistake.”

And what has he ultimately learned from all of this, besides refraining from open drug use when you’re a public figure?

“It’s funny at times…take a picture with a cell phone,” he says. “I’ll say that there are a lot of people out there who want to take advantage of any situation they have. I trusted my friends who were there about who they were. And clearly they weren’t trusted people…Sometimes you learn the hard way.”