March 20th, 2009
10:48 AM ET
6 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. Obama-noes!

    Typical of an unexperienced politicain to make such a dumb mistake. I am sure we see the liberal media cover it up. Of course if anyone else would have made this comment it would be law suits all over! Maybe another trillion will fix this?!?!

    March 20, 2009 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  2. Karen Schulz

    As a parent of a child with special needs, I am very disappointed in President Obama's comment. As a society, we need to appreciate that people have differing abilities and we shouldn't disparage one group to entertain another. It's too bad that people, including the president, feel they can make people laugh with these kinds of jokes. My child may never bowl a perfect game, but he probably has just as much fun and puts in at least as much effort as those who do.

    March 20, 2009 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  3. Onno Udema

    President Obama's remark was totally distastful. It was worse than someone using the "n" word.

    March 20, 2009 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  4. Larry L.

    Does Barack Obama want to be President of the United States or a celebrity? He should have made that decision before he ran for the office.

    By the way, how much is it costing taxpayers for him to jet set off to events like this when everybody should be watching very closely to how they are spending our money in these finically difficult times.

    He can talk the talk when it comes to chastising businesses on how they spend their bailout money (aka taxpayer money) but he doesn't walk the walk himself when it comes to Frivolously spending our money on totally unnecessary expenses like this nonsense.

    March 20, 2009 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  5. Deborah

    He will now be known as "The Special Olympics" President.

    It fits in many, many ways!

    What a Joke!

    We need a LEADER to get us out of this economic mess, not a complete Dunce!

    March 20, 2009 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  6. Nelson Colorado Springs Co.

    Boy oh Boy Give the President a break. TICK .TICK. TICK. The world didn't stop. get off the President tip.

    March 20, 2009 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  7. Brain in DC

    It was unintentional. We all make mistakes, and the good thing is to admit them, sincerely apologize, and undo damage. Move on.

    March 20, 2009 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  8. Millie Matthews

    Obomber must have been speaking without his teleprompter. Goodness, isn't there such a thing as a wrist teleprompter someone can fit that person with?

    March 20, 2009 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  9. Colleen

    Where was his communicator? We know he can't speak correctly without it. Just goes to show all of those haters on President Bush turnabout is fair play. Now I for one realize their job was and is extremely tough. Both President Bush and President Obama need our understanding and respect. Not this petty bickering over who we all think is right and wrong. We all make mistakes. Also stop blaming someone else for your lifes struggles. Pick up your pieces of your life, figure out a plan for yourself and along the way if you can smile and lend a hand that would be great. If we would all do this and stop whining oh he has that she has that I don't. Well maybe you were not meant to have it. I know myself I would l love to have a nicer house more money a better vacation etc. But I know where I have been, what I have done to get here and what I have to do to maintain the lifestyle I can afford. Also, I can look people in the eye and say I made it on my own and raised a beautiful daughter but not always on my own. Someone who was kind enough offered help not in the form of money or things but through a willing to be there as a person and friend. America, please this is the greatest country on earth. Stop being so angry. Look at one another and see most people are not out to get you. They are just like you wanting a better life and are trying to figure out how to get it. I have served my country in the Armed Forces and truly cherish that eight years of my life. It was a great experience.

    March 20, 2009 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  10. Diane

    This is how he thinks? I'm beginning to understand why he uses a teleprompter. He's going to be our new Gerald Ford–only Ford's gaffes were at least amusing and lacked malice.

    March 20, 2009 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  11. Dan

    We still ove you Barack;)
    This just shows that yuo are normal, like everyone else who cracks jokes from time to time. Anyone who says they don't are hypocrites.

    March 20, 2009 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  12. Dan

    We still love you Barack;)
    This just shows that yuo are normal, like everyone else who cracks jokes from time to time. Anyone who says they don't are hypocrites.

    March 20, 2009 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  13. an american first

    This is what I consider a pursuit of perfection. Everyone makes mistakes but just the fact that he realized that he made an offhand remark and follow that up with personally calling the chairman of the Special Olympic to apologize is a sign of the President in pursuit of perfection. I really admire that.

    March 20, 2009 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  14. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia in CA

    The President tries too hard to be "hip" sometimes at the expense of his dignity our ours.

    March 20, 2009 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  15. Mike in TX

    This man is a worse speaker than Bush when he doesn't have his teleprompter. Can you imagine the hate speach about Bush from the media and the libs if he has said this.......But it is the libs we are talking about so let the koolaid drinkers start defending their savior in ....3....2....1...

    March 20, 2009 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  16. triana

    People get real. We need to calm down. You all make a big deal over his comments but Bush actions almost destroyed America. Give me a break. There are more important issues than that of his comments. The man do not walk on water and he has never profess that he does. People who want to see him fail, is hammering his ever word and move, let the man breath, give him space. Also to add, what the men of this country really need to do solve our problems, ASK A WOMAN.

    March 20, 2009 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  17. N

    Probably the last we'll hear about this. But if our last president had said this, not only would the comments here be unimaginably vicious, but it would still be in the news in May.

    March 20, 2009 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  18. Sandy

    His true colors. I love how he's now inviting the athletes to come to the WH. He truly is an elitist snob.

    March 20, 2009 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  19. Amy Wilson

    What an awful comment to make about the Special Olympics.

    March 20, 2009 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  20. JustAComment

    I think it is obvious he did not mean it in a bad way, he was being self depcricating. Since he is the president, he is bound to offend someone. Its unfortunate, because we all do the same.. but want to hold others to a higher standard than we hold ourselves.

    March 20, 2009 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  21. Anonymous

    More proof that this guy doesn't want to be a leader. He wants to be a rock star.

    March 20, 2009 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  22. UNCLE SAM

    Oh please CNN, this is a story? We're all well aware that the President was mocking himself and has nothing but respect for the disabled. CNN, it's been painfully obvious you're now a news magazine like Fox.

    March 20, 2009 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  23. Steve

    Gaffe? This guy is such a novice and has a very difficult time talking without a script. He is a very good speaker, but not when he is 'on-his-feet'.
    An appology is not enough – he should donate his entire salary to the Special Olympics! Oh, but he wouldn't do that, because only 28% would be deductible under his new budget...

    March 20, 2009 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  24. twills

    Great journalism, focusing on a nanosecond gaffe and bowling scores.

    You guys are pathetic.

    March 20, 2009 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  25. Matt

    Well, we've seen/heard much worse from the leader of the Republican party

    March 20, 2009 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
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