March 20th, 2009
10:48 AM ET
5 years ago

Obama apologizes for Special Olympics comment

President Obama chats it up with Jay Leno on 'The Tonight Show' on Thursday.
President Obama chats it up with Jay Leno on 'The Tonight Show' on Thursday.

(CNN) – President Obama apologized Thursday night for an offhanded remark during his appearance on The Tonight Show that appeared disparaging toward Special Olympic athletes.

White House officials confirm the president called Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver before the show aired to personally apologize for the remark. One official said Obama expressed his disappointment over the comment and his intention not to humiliate the disabled.

iReport: What do you think about the president's comments?

The comment came midway through Obama's appearance on the late night comedy show, when host Jay Leno quipped about the president's lack of bowling skills: “I imagine the bowling alley [in the White House] has just been just burned and closed down," Leno said.

“No, no. I have been practicing,” Obama said. “I bowled a 129. It's like — it was like Special Olympics, or something."

Watch: CNN's Suzanne Malveaux looks at Obama's Tonight Show appearance

The Special Olympics, founded in 1968, is a nonprofit organization serving people with mental and physical disabilities. The Special Olympics holds its “Special Olympics World Games” every other year.

The White House immediately tried to undo any damage, releasing a statement before the show aired stating the president in no way intended to disparage the Special Olympics."

"He thinks that the Special Olympics are a wonderful program that gives an opportunity to shine to people with disabilities from around the world," Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said.

Related: Obama mixes politics, comedy on 'Tonight Show'

According to White House officials, Obama also extended an invitation to Special Olympic athletes to come bowl or play basketball at the White House.

Appearing on ABC's Good Morning America Friday Morning, Shriver said Obama was "very sincere" in his apology.

"[He] expressed an openness and an interest in being more engaging in the movement and said he was a fan of the movement," Shriver said. "And I think importantly said he was ready to have some of our athletes over the White House to bowl or play basketball or help him improve his score."

During the campaign season, then-candidate Obama described his bowling skills as “terrible” after scoring 37 when he hit the lanes on the campaign trail in Altoona, Pennsylvania. A perfect score is 300


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (789 Responses)
  1. Larry

    The president only "appears "to have empathy,it's not real.

    March 20, 2009 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
  2. Adam

    The annointed one is hanging around gaffe machine Biden too much, or maybe it was the fact he didnt have his other wife the teleprompter with him last night

    March 20, 2009 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
  3. Jim

    Easy to be popular – tough to be a real leader.

    March 20, 2009 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
  4. asegga

    TO ME THE President didn't mean no harm-as for me i gather he meant,MEGA as in one of a kinda hence the word Special Olympics.

    March 20, 2009 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  5. Karen Monnich

    It seems to me that the Presidential press staff are actually calling attention to any "gaffe" the President might make.

    Each of us says or does something thoughtless or just plain silly all the time and yet it is okay. The President is just a man like any other man and if his press corps would focus on the positive instead of pointing a possible negative before the public is even aware of the incident or what-ever. Why do they anticipate that the public will always react to statements that one person in the press corps decides are "controversial", thus making it so?

    President Obama like every other President is going to make wording mistakes, bad decisions, good decisions, and all the rest, at least he was man enough to stand up and say "I screwed up!"

    The press corps should be focusing on what he is doing that is positive instead of stirring the pot for no reason.

    March 20, 2009 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  6. greg greenman

    Come on Mr. President, you have to do better than that.

    March 20, 2009 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  7. John

    P-U-L-E-A-S-E another amplified attempt by the media to blow a story out of proportion. There is enough real news to report without this pitiful effort to create a story where none exists. They need to return to report news and leave creating it to others. This is the kind of stuff Thomas Jefferson was referring to in his criticism of the press.

    March 20, 2009 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  8. ryan

    haha definitely a stupid comment but its funny and im sure he doesnt mean anything by it – who among us hasnt slipped before?

    March 20, 2009 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  9. jane

    I "gaffe" several times a day, every day, but perhaps the President should avoid the talk shows.

    March 20, 2009 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
  10. Eric Jacobsen

    So what's the big deal? Isn't it a fact that his score of 129 is comparable to a score that would be seen at a Special Olympics bowling event?

    March 20, 2009 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
  11. amy

    obama is a great guy... he didn't mean to insult people in the Special Olympics. He was making fun of himself.

    March 20, 2009 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
  12. Mohammed

    Let our president have some fun he works hard, Mr. President your doing good job .we are the people united states we love you ,god bless you sir.

    March 20, 2009 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
  13. Rob

    All I have to say is it appears the true Obama is starting to emerge. It all appears to have been a front to get elected. He makes in appropriate jokes, is back-peddaling on his policies and seems to think saying "oops, my bad" is going to solve the problem.

    March 20, 2009 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
  14. John

    Grow up CNN and report news not BS!

    March 20, 2009 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
  15. Sylvia

    I do not like Obama, but even I can't hold this against him. I am also a Special Education Director!!!...come on guys even we make fun of the short bus!!!
    get real.....LET'S WORRY ABOUT REAL PROBLEMS INSTEAD OF A PLAY ON WORDS

    March 20, 2009 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
  16. Shayne from NH

    In the words of Bill Murry from "Scrooged":

    I CARE!

    That's sarcasm.

    March 20, 2009 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  17. Mary J Champagne

    No, that was Bush he was thinking of

    March 20, 2009 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  18. Mohammed

    Let our president have some fun he works hard, Mr. President your doing good job .we are the people of united states we love you ,god bless you sir.

    March 20, 2009 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  19. ABG

    The President's comment was just plain ignorant!

    March 20, 2009 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  20. Micah

    Wow! I bet any amount of money, if Bush, or any other Republican would said this, it would be all over the news. They would be hammered. Simply amazing.

    March 20, 2009 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  21. Elle

    was wondering how long before somebody would make a huge deal out of it....sure he'll apologise for it later.

    March 20, 2009 09:04 am at 9:04 am |
  22. dirk diggler

    OK republicans. Get the impeachment talk going.

    March 20, 2009 09:04 am at 9:04 am |
  23. mma

    What more do we need to say?? He keeps showing his REAL SELF everyday........
    Way to go,Mr Prez........

    March 20, 2009 09:04 am at 9:04 am |
  24. change?

    So let me get this right. If I'm making fun of myself by comparing me to another group of people, that's okay even though I'm pointing out qualities in that other group which people laugh at? And that's okay to just blow off when coming from the President of the USA? If this were Bush, he would be crucified for this. "But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' "

    March 20, 2009 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  25. Dianna Farris

    We are all human and sometimes do not think before we speak. However, we should expect the President of our nation to appear less critical of a very special program that has enhanced so many lives. I also expect more from the President of our nation than appearing on a talk show while in office. I feel that he deserves much criticism for "cheapening" such an honor. I for one do not want the office of the President of the United States of America portrayed in this manner.

    March 20, 2009 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32