- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - Michael Phelps insists he’s more worried about the pain he caused family, friends and fans than losing money in endorsements after he was photographed inhaling from a marijuana pipe.

In excerpts from an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer that aired Friday morning, the swimming star didn’t directly answer the question of whether he was smoking marijuana.

“It was a bad mistake. I mean, we all know what, you know, what you and I are talking about. It’s a stupid mistake. You know, bad judgment.”

USA Swimming suspended the Olympic great for three months after the photo was published in a British tabloid Feb. 1. He also lost his sponsorship from Kellogg.

“I’ve come to realize that people want to bring you up, but more people want to bring you down. And that’s how our public is. That’s definitely something to keep in mind and keep close to heart.”

Phelps has previously apologized for his poor judgment.

He was questioned about promises he made to fans after a DUI arrest in 2004, which the swimmer vowed was a mistake he would not repeat.

“I’ll be the first one to admit I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. Both, like I said, in the pool and out of the pool. I’ve never made the same mistake twice.”

When asked if he considered his DUI arrest and the marijuana controversy the same thing, Phelps replied: “In my eyes, no. I think they’re both immature and stupid mistakes. For me, I feel my duty is to try to help other people not make this mistake.”

The photo was taken at a house party while Phelps was visiting Columbia, S.C., in November during an extended break from training after he won a record eight gold medals in Beijing.

“There was probably two or three people there I didn’t know,” he said. “It was a very small group. Six or seven people probably total in the whole house. Like, nothing major. You know, not like a giant college house party. It was nothing like that. It was just a small group and we were just sitting around and celebrating.”

Phelps said he trusted his friends that the people he didn’t know there could also be trusted.

“I’ll say that there are a lot of people out there who want to take advantage of any situation they have. … Sometimes you learn the hard way,” he said.

Phelps said he became aware of the photo a day or two before it was published.

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

Asked what his mother’s reaction was, he said: “Didn’t scream. Clearly showed she was upset. She wasn’t reprimanding me.”

Phelps also addressed the issue of young boys and girls who look up to him that may have been crushed by the photo.

“I want to say that if you do make a bad judgement or you do make a mistake, make sure you’re responsible for it. Because that’s how you’re going to change and that’s how you’re going to learn.”

The remainder of the interview will air Sunday night on “Dateline.”

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