Michael Phelps has finally spoken out about the infamous photo showing the Olympic swimmer with his mouth on a marijuana-smoking device, which surfaced in January.
U.S. & World
"It was a bad mistake," Phelps answered. "I mean, we all know what… you and I are talking about. It's a stupid mistake. You know, bad judgment. And it's something that… I have to, and I want to teach other people not to make that mistake."
Phelps said the photo was taken at a party he was at with a handful of friends he was "celebrating" with. He told Lauer there were "probably two or three people there I didn't know," and a total of six or seven people "in the whole house."
While it was unclear if Phelps knows who sold the picture to a British tabloid, the swimming superstar said he learned many lessons from the incident.
"You know, it's funny at times. Take a picture with a cell phone… I'll say that there are a lot of people out there who want to take advantage of any situation they have," Phelps said. "I trusted my friends who were there about who they were. And clearly they weren't trusted people… Sometimes you learn the hard way."
In excerpts released from the interview, which airs Friday March 13 on "Today," and Sunday March 15 on "Dateline," Phelps told Lauer he found out the photo was headed to the media via e-mail, a few days before it surfaced in the paper.
"It was through an e-mail form. And I had no idea really what to do. You know, I knew that I'd made a mistake and made a bad judgment," Phelps said. "And… I know that when you do make a mistake… you're responsible for all of the consequences. And I was willing to… accept the fact that I did make a mistake.
"And it was an awful judgment," the athlete, who lost a Kellogg's sponsorship over the incident, said. "The people I hurt, you know, is my family, clearly. My friends. The close people around me. And most importantly, the fans. And… I realize that that hurt a lot of people."
Phelps said his thoughts did not immediately turn to the lucrative sponsorships that could be affected by the photo when it came out. Instead, he said, he was concerned about his family.
"It's not about money to me," he said. "The contract side of things, yeah, I was disappointed. But, you know, I think the biggest thing is — is who I hurt the most. Like, if I lost money, OK. It's not an issue with me."