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. Maryland

    I absolutely adore my President. Thank goodness he's human just like the rest of us.

    March 20, 2009 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  2. DJ

    So, I love Obama but that was a crappy thing to say.

    March 20, 2009 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  3. joe

    Oh, come on. Sure it was in poor taste, but it was funny.

    March 20, 2009 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  4. EJ (USA)

    When I post on any of the 360 blogs I don't see any of my messages. Can you help with this?

    March 20, 2009 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  5. Mike in VA

    Greta, those are valid critisims that you shoud share.
    The emperor has no clothes!

    March 20, 2009 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  6. Chris

    Yes, the comment was inappropriate, but I think the more important question is, what is this man doing on the Tonight Show anyway? Someone needs to remind him that our country is in a state of financial chaos at the moment, there are terrorists around the world that want to destroy our country, people are loosing jobs by the thousands every day, and yet he finds it appropriate to joke around with Jay Leno and fill out NCAA basketball brackets on ESPN? What a joke! Is this guy a celebrity or a leader? I think that question has already been answered.

    March 20, 2009 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  7. Kim

    I wonder how much it costs taxpayers for his "appearance" and for him to "get out of Washington" for a while....and while I think every person desreves a private life...the President should keep his to himself...playing around with the NCAA brackets when our country is in such turmoil is just too much...why not head out to the "tent communities" and explain it to them!

    March 20, 2009 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  8. Smiley from Conyers, GA

    Why does it have to be a "gaffe"? Everyone makes jokes about everything! The "Wussification" of America has gone too far! Lighten up folks. It was just a joke. Get over it!

    March 20, 2009 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  9. Tyran

    Another horizontal issue.

    March 20, 2009 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  10. Tim Walker

    As the brother of two disabled children – both Special Olympics athletes – I was offended by President Obama's remark. That said, I believe his apology was sincere. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone... move on.

    March 20, 2009 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  11. Give me a break!

    Listen to all of you!

    Must be nice living way up there. Snotty bastards.

    The worst one can be is disappointed in the remark. Lets get a transcript of every word you say, publish it, and see how you look "in the public eye."

    Hide behind the internet and make your snide remarks. The country should be proud.

    March 20, 2009 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  12. Don't sweat the small stuff.

    I think everyone knows that this statement coming from Obama did not intend to disparge anyone. By know all of us should know that he is not that type of a person. I think Obama should stay in the White house like all the other Presidence and don't mingle.
    Cnn and all the other Newsmedia or putting him under a microscope. President Obama is the only President to let us into his life into the
    Whitehouse with such openess. But I think he soon will have to change that. America is not ready for that, still too many who are just
    waiting to hang him. He is working so hard trying to fix the Country at such a critical time and this is all the media can pick on.

    March 20, 2009 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  13. Jorge

    Why is that when a public figure makes a mistake and fails to admit it and apologize his/her detractors say that if only he/she had come right out and apologized right away there wouldn't have been a proble?
    Well, folks, Mr. Obama did recognize and acknowledge his faux pas and apologized for it right away.
    Get off his back and on to more important matters.

    March 20, 2009 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  14. Susann

    Remember how Bush couldn't get through a whole sentence without screwing up? Remember how many people he offended-on purpose-and NEVER apologized for it? Was CNN reporting that?? Obama-Great President. CNN-Media Warlord.

    March 20, 2009 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  15. sbm

    Mr. President please show the ofice a little more respect. There is a reason why no other sitting president ever did this! Lets fill the spots at the Fed

    March 20, 2009 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  16. white female

    No Big deal People, so many of you news commontarssss, and cable news reporters act like you went to school on the short Bus.
    Grow up, and get a life we don't care about all the lip serve.
    People approve of the way the New President is running things. This man get up each and every day and move right along with the job that we the people has hired him to do, and he is during a outstanding job.
    You'll (the outdated Repubs will never learn that you can't use fear anymore on the american public against this very smart President).
    Morning Joe looked like such a BIG FOOL this morning running out to the west coast -Calif. following the President to broadcast to find something to help bring this President down, give it a break Joe, and others Cable, and Whitehouse news reports get a real job, because your new cyle-o-pth reporting days are OVER, MOVE ON, as the President said. GO BACK TO SCHOOL.
    We Love our NEW and Smart President, what a refreshing change is this country. sit back haters and watch a real man, and woman run this (White House) and country.

    March 20, 2009 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  17. EJ (USA)

    Whom do I contact if I'm having technical issues with the blogs?

    March 20, 2009 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  18. Gretel

    This has nothing to do a teleprompter. Trust me everyone makes jokes like that and let he who is without sin cast the first stone. It's interesting that the "gaffe" is the only thing that people focus on, when he spoke about many substantive issues on the show last night. You people are ridiculous!!

    If you want to impeach Obama after 2 months, because you really cannot stand him, then be honest and say so, but stop focusing on one or two little things that have little or no impact on the many issues that we face today.

    The head of the Special Olympics is not even offended, and said that he recalled an interaction that Obama had with a child bowler in the Special Olympics who bowled better than Obama at the time. That's where that whole thing may have come from.

    March 20, 2009 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  19. MN Independent

    While I think this comment can be used as a teachable moment, I also understand that sometimes we all put our foots in our mouth. I believe that this is one of those instances.

    With that being said, I thought the American Idol comment was funny. Unfortunately I am less concerned about being entertained and more concerned about the state of the economy.

    March 20, 2009 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  20. sandy

    Get a life people! We all know he meant nothing derogatory toward people with special needs. This is a phrase all of us use and it's not meant to be distasteful. If this is all the news media has to report today then were all in trouble. I am so tired of turning on the TV and listening to these TV personalities (?) talk like they think they have a brain. There's too many really important things happening in this world and it's about time CNN, Fox, MSNBC and all the others report on them, not wast our time on these trivial things.

    March 20, 2009 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  21. Billy

    Making fun at the expense of the physically/mentally challenged population is lower than a racist comment. What was he thinking? Some may say that it is a figure of speech, but then again, for many people, so is the n word – what's the difference, I beg you to tell me. Prez should not be doing these shows, and get to business.

    March 20, 2009 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  22. RZ

    129? Better then my scores.

    Hope he doesn't sneeze the wrong way. We might have to impeach him!

    March 20, 2009 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  23. Cathy

    I'm trying to imagine how CNN would have portrayed this if it had been George W. who made the gaffe. Hmm.... The headline might have been "Bush disparages special needs kids". The story would have started with highlighting the gaffe and negative reactions the entire world is having towards it. Maybe at the end of the article, we would have found out that there was an apology, probably made to seem very insincere. CNN has little journalistic integrity as far as I can see.

    March 20, 2009 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  24. rightchick

    Hey CNN,

    Thanks for not posting my first comment. The gist was I hope Obama keeps on making these so-called "little gaffes." Had a prominent Republican said it they would've been Oberman's "worst person ever." But wait, it's BHO and we in the media can't make anything out of this. We'll just call it a gaffe. Yeah, that's the ticket. It's fun to watch POTUS chip away at his political capital and poll approval numbers, and in record time. Keep those late nite comedians in business BHO! There's Conan, Letterman, Chelsea H., oh, and try a few of the "real" news shows too...The Daily Show. Have at it.

    March 20, 2009 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  25. Carl

    What is he doing taping the late show with Moon Face? How about getting to work on the economy? The more we see of him the more we are to love him? Sounds like a socialist strategy if you ask me!

    March 20, 2009 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
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