Retired American basketball star Dennis Rodman, who is on a self-described "basketball diplomacy" trip to North Korea, has apologized for an incoherent, profanity-filled rant in which he appeared to blame a U.S. citizen for being held by Pyongyang.
In a statement through a publicist, Rodman said Thursday he takes "full responsibility" for his comments, which he said "embarrassed a lot of people." He said it had been a "stressful day" and he had been drinking before the live interview with CNN.
In the Tuesday interview, the 52-year-old Rodman seemed to imply that Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae deserved the sentence of 15 years hard labor given to him by the North. Puffing a cigar, Rodman asked the CNN anchor, "Do you understand what he did in this country?"
The comments received widespread criticism by Bae's family and others. His mother, Myunghee Bae, told VOA she was "disappointed" by Rodman's comments and said he should do more to push for his release.
"We hoped he could mention my son when he met with (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Un. Because Rodman himself said he was a close friend of Kim. I was very disappointed at his comments and I could not believe he could say such a thing as an American citizen," she said.
Although Rodman has used Twitter to ask North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to release Bae, the eccentric former National Basketball Association All-Star has said he will not bring up politics during his time in the North.
Bae's family has not yet responded to Rodman's apology. But in an interview with VOA, Bae's longtime friend Bobby Lee questioned whether the statement was genuine.
"What would be more direct and encouraging if he went on camera himself and made his apology directly from himself to the public and to the family," Lee said. "It's just hard to gauge whether he really wrote that press release, or if it was done simply by the PR ((public relations)) folks."
Lee, who attended the University of Oregon with Bae, views Rodman's trip as motivated by financial and personal gains, noting his recent endorsement deals with several companies.
"He is on a Hollywood mission to elevate his own brand for his commercial contracts. And that's just what's ultimately so insulting is the fact that he's willing to surf this wave for himself and completely deny the fact that there are horrific things going on in North Korea," Lee said.
Rodman traveled to North Korea with a group of retired NBA players, who on Wednesday played a game of basketball to celebrate Mr. Kim's birthday, with the North Korean leader himself in attendance.
Rodman began the festivities at the packed Pyongyang auditorium by singing "Happy Birthday" to Mr. Kim, the head of a government accused of some of the world's worst rights abuses.
On a previous trip to Pyongyang, Rodman met personally with Mr. Kim, calling him a "good guy" and a "friend for life." He has defended his trip as an effort to "open the door" to North Korea.
State Department and White House officials have stressed that Rodman's trip to the impoverished and isolated country is unhelpful and not sanctioned by the U.S.
Rights groups say as many as 200,000 people are held in North Korea's vast and notorious system of prison camps, where inmates are said to be raped, murdered, and subject to forced manual labor.