March 20th, 2009
10:48 AM ET
9 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. kate

    Obama desired and recieved the honor of becoming the President of the United States and weather good or bad that job comes with being held to a higher standard. We are a country of political correctness that has gotten out of control. But, if we are going to complain about what everyone- stars, public, prior polictical officials said then okay, Obama opened mouth inserted foot. He is human, but being that he is the Pres. he has to be in constant control of his tounge and be wise to the fact that everyone is watching each and every word and move, even though he is human just like you and me. But, as with each and every political figure he will get critisism.

    From my opinion it was a dumb comment that he should have thought twice about. It's not worth getting you panties in a wad over, but as a tax payer and a voter I have a right to my opinion that he should have been more careful about what comes out of his mouth. President always tend to get themselves in touble with their tounge when they attempt to be funny or cute.

    March 20, 2009 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  2. charlie

    The bible says you can't hide what is in a man's heart. He just feels he is better than most people. I've always found it annoying how he raises his chin when he gives speeches and has him giving a downward gaze on his audience.

    March 20, 2009 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  3. Jonathon

    To all of you saying things along the lines of, "this is no big deal" haven't had to live with a disability all your life!! Most American's I've had to deal with honestly feel the disabled should be treated less than equal, and to have a President make a comment like this only proves that. If he were to make a comment like this about race, the reactions would be different. This is NO different than racism.

    March 20, 2009 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  4. Kevin in Ohio

    I'm an idiot.

    March 20, 2009 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  5. roy

    If George Bush would have said this, liberals would have screamed bloody murder and called for his head. Obamas on the job training is wearing thin. His lies about AIG and now this is not the change we can believe in. Hypocrites!

    March 20, 2009 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  6. Awake

    I can imagine the CNN newsroom after he made this remark. Everyone trying to figure out if they had to report on this or not, and if they did, how they could use it to make Obama look better. If this had been George W Bush, you guys would have already run him out of town. What a joke your station is.

    March 20, 2009 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  7. jack

    fix the economy

    March 20, 2009 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  8. Smiley from Conyers, GA

    Sandy – what is so elitist about inviting athletes to the WH? Bush did the same thing! Was he also an elitist snob? The Olympic Swim Team went to the WH, did that make Bush an elitist snob? Find another reason to start the namecalling.

    March 20, 2009 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  9. Harry

    When I was watching last night, I wondered why he said that. It was a very inappropriate off-the-collar remark.

    Being the father of a disabled daughter and being very active in adaptive athletics, I see first hand how athletics are such a very important part of my daughters life and others that I work with.

    What really bothers me even more is the hate and divisiveness that is spewed on these comment logs for almost any issue. We are at a crossroads here in the USA and it is vital for all of us to come together to help bring our country back to greatness.

    Have a great weekend and enjoy the fact that we live free here in the greatest country in the world.


    March 20, 2009 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  10. Will Smith

    Oh come on people, it was funny. You can't expect someone to be politically correct all the time. It was the Tonight Show, not a policy speech.

    March 20, 2009 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  11. Sniffit

    @ Kim, who quipped "playing around with the NCAA brackets when our country is in such turmoil is just too much"

    Really? 10 minutes filling out an NCAA bracket while sitting on the camode? That's just totally irresponsible?

    March 20, 2009 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  12. Sniffit

    Next up: GOPers calling for impeachment because he spilled milk at breakfast.

    March 20, 2009 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  13. Giot777

    It's actually a real funny joke about himself, Unless you are a republican then it becomes something else 😉

    March 20, 2009 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  14. Stu in Las Vegas

    Wow, people are so full of it ! The President can't even make fun of himself, without you people critisizing him! He apologized for the comment, leave it alone already !

    March 20, 2009 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  15. jeff

    Deep down he is more interesed in appearing on Leno and making jokes than what he said about the special olympics
    He is becoming a celebrity and more interested in that celebrity status than being in chanrge of the country

    March 20, 2009 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  16. Saad from NJ

    President Obama is an amazing person. He makes a mistake but unlike his predecessors who thought they owned the world and were above life, he tries to make mends with the parties affected. Now that's charisma and level headed leader – exactly what my our country needed.

    March 20, 2009 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  17. Josee

    I LOVE how the White House went in damage control mode, telling us how the president REALLY feels about the Special Olympics. No matter if you are Democrat or Republican, what he said IS a big deal. Poking fun at himself for being a bad bowler, OK. Poking fun at the Special Olympics, not so much.

    March 20, 2009 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  18. Chip

    Call me old fashioned but I think it is beneath the office for a sitting President to show up on late night talk shows.

    March 20, 2009 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  19. annie

    He was slamming Gov. Palin.

    March 20, 2009 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  20. Glen

    Did CNN get their daily update notes from the White House? I couldn't imagine what your reporters would do otherwise. Perhaps report, as they did in the past when you were a news organisation worth something.

    March 20, 2009 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  21. Robin

    Shows what happens when Obama Messiah does not have a teleprompter.

    It's only the beginning, he will continue to put his foot in his mouth. He may have impressive degrees to hang on his wall, but he really is green when it comes to being president. Oh well, 4 years is not all that long!

    March 20, 2009 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  22. Val, NYC

    I have 200% confidence in you Mr. President, but..

    you shouldn't have said that. I think that you're getting way too relaxed in front of the camera and that can work against you.

    You're a great president- keep doing a great job, keep working hard, and we look forward to your efforts in improving the economy.

    March 20, 2009 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  23. Darla (Edmonton, Canada)

    His choice of words ... unfortunate, inappropriate and glib.

    QUESTION: Haven't each of us said something that was unfortunate, inappropriate and glib in an attempt to be funny?

    President Obama did what each one of us should do when this type of thing happens ... acknowledge our mistake ... apologize ... make amends if its possible.

    He's done this ... so we all need to move on.

    March 20, 2009 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  24. Steve

    Not the change I was hoping for! So far he is a disappointment but of course he didn't have a lot of experience does he but didn't Hillary point this out early in last year's campaigh. hmmmm.

    March 20, 2009 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  25. Jackie in Dallas

    Get a life, people. So he mispoke, meaning that he was bad at bowling. The number of times that President Bush insulted us all, and Vice President Cheney stripped away essential Constitutional rights is a much more important topic. He realized at once that his comments could be misunderstood, apologized, and did the right thing...he didn't pretend it didn't happen, like outing a CIA agent or violating our rights to free speech.

    You know, if everything you negative bloggers said was looked at under the same microscope as his comments, you'd be in jail for libel!

    March 20, 2009 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
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