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. Edsan Idiot

    Ed – Do you mean everything that comes out of your mouth?

    March 20, 2009 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  2. Joe

    That was distasteful as is his appearances on late night. I take great pride going bowling with my wife and her residents who have disabilities and watch them smile. for those few hours. I as well as my wife will remember this joke as we vote in a few years.

    March 20, 2009 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  3. pat C.

    well i see the FOX dummies are are allover CNN this morning. what happened ? did FOX not print your nasty comments?
    i loved our president last night and think he is doing a wonderful job!
    i love the fact that he is so ordinary and can laugh with us. god help we get a little laughter now and then. the repubs can not stand it unless all we read is gloom and doom coming from their narrow-minded little brains. they want to see us in fear with no optimism so they can scare us into putting their loony party back in charge.
    sorry repubs...that will never happen again.

    March 20, 2009 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  4. worriedmom

    Now I understand why he uses a teleprompter all the time. The true character comes out when he is caught off guard. Look he is the President of the United States. He needs to start acting like one and stop acting like some Hollywood Star. He is suppose to represent ALL people. His arrogance comes out. His remark about Special Olympics was unprofessional and insulting and also when he gave his Town Hall speech, he was very cocky in saying people saying he should be in Washington instead of Jay Leno. Did anyone catch his smirky smile (just like his twin Gibbs does!) and his defense. All I can say if you want to be President, act like one and get your staff & congress on the same page. I feel like cover-ups are already happening.

    March 20, 2009 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  5. Josh- Rochester, MN

    This isn't a question of democrat/republican. This is between P/C, self absorbed whiners and normal people.

    Me, I am a republican (red through and through) but this is pathetic. His comment wasn't disrespectful towards anyone but himself. All you P/C goons who love to criticize need to get a life. Find a cause that is worthwhile and fight for it.

    March 20, 2009 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  6. Bob

    I love all you people saying "you're making a big deal out of nothing!" Most of you are probably the same people who would be flaming Bush or ANY Republican who made that same comment, and you know it. But of course, if anyone DARES to criticize Obama, he/she must be racist and/or full of hate, etc.

    Obama is now the President. Like it or not, EVERY President needs to be equally accountable for not only actions but words, and EVERY President needs to be able to be put under scrutiny. There should be no double standard here.

    I think a really telling comment was made recently by a news pundit...he said that when Obama has a bad day, the Dems make sure that someone else has a worse day. That's completely the truth. But guess what, folks? Blaming Bush and the Republicans (which you've joyfully done) isn't going to last too much longer. If anything, I'd say the actions of the Democratic leadership (especially Pelosi) are doing a ton to help ensure the GOP will do well 2 years from now.

    Don't get me wrong; I very much want Obama to do well. He is our President and I respect him because I respect the office. But to this point, he's looking more and more like someone who is exceptionally fine at public speaking but less talented at actual leading. And he sure doesn't get a good mid-term grade for "doing what he said he was going to do". What would be a huge help for him would be to defang Dems should be aware that Pelosi and Reid are by FAR your greatest liability right now.

    March 20, 2009 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  7. LesMarky

    Obama shouldn't have been on the Tonight Show in the first place. Distasteful and tacky – this is not what I expect how the President of the United States to behave. Running the country is not a popularity contest.

    And furthermore, Obama shows his elitism by making that stupid, stupid comment about Special Olympics. Yes, he probably didn't mean it the way it came off, but that slip of the tongue showed his true character.

    March 20, 2009 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  8. Maria West

    Would it were President Obama be placed in a wheel chair for a day
    in mid-town New York City and then make fun of the differently abled.

    March 20, 2009 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  9. Gordon

    And THIS is what CNN calls breaking news. How pathetic.

    March 20, 2009 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  10. j

    I love listening to people say that if he doesn't have a teleprompter he can't reach people. Town Hall meetings? He answers every question, the good and the bad which is a lot more than Bush could ever do. It was a dumb comment poking fun at himself. everyone does it.

    March 20, 2009 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  11. Larry in CT

    Obama's comment was inconsiderate. I wish that our societal reaction was different, though. The media sharks circle the waters waiting to sink its teeth into this type of remark. It bloodies the water in which we all swim. Those who greatly dislike Obama will join in the raging feast. Those overly fond of Obama will attack the attackers. Most of the rest of us will swim away and forget the whole incident as fish do. Very few of us won't take the bait.

    March 20, 2009 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  12. Oh C'mon!

    If George Bush said this, the press and America would not have taken it so seriously.

    They would've made fun of it and chalked it up to the rest of his gaffes. (remember all the gaffes Bush made? There were so many!)

    So, President Obama makes one gaffe, and people treat it like its the end of the world.


    March 20, 2009 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  13. Lani

    I meant to type late night tv

    March 20, 2009 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  14. katiec

    For crying out loud. It was a pleasure watching our president on Leno's show and even got to see him laugh.
    Of course, the media picked up on one misspoken word. We who support our president know he would never intentionally show any disrespect for anyone. He truly loves and supports the American people and proves it every dayt.
    Between the media and the republicans do not know how he keeps his cool.

    March 20, 2009 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  15. Very concerned

    I'm very disappointed.
    The only way President Obama can even begin to make good on this distasteful comment is to continue with tax breaks for the wealthy, fall to his knees and worship Rush Limbaugh, abandon alternative energy funding, keep our troops in Iraq until they find the WMDs, do nothing and deny there's a recession, uphold the Constitutional right to deny citizens habeas corpus...
    I could go on and on.

    March 20, 2009 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  16. Sniffit

    @ RealityKing

    You planning a trip to Japan (I hope)?

    March 20, 2009 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  17. KWatson

    Not in good taste, but not intentional...there are more important things that need to be focused on. Like fixing the horrible state our country was left in from the last 8 years under Bush!

    March 20, 2009 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  18. Greg

    Thanks to many of you for missing the point. Everyone says stupid things at one time or another; the President is held to a higher standard. Each of the morons here that are so excited to "feign" the GOP reaction/impeachment and all that are shallow, clueless automatons just following along without a balanced thought. It's the reaction or lack of one from the heroic media that is somewhat vexing; GWB or any other Conservative would have been pilloried in the press...the evil Rightwing radio etc. would have excused it (as it should be), but they sure wouldn't have spoken it up like it was a zero issue. You all don't realize that you're actually the sheep....morons!!!!!

    March 20, 2009 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  19. Erin

    This guy is just another presidential bigot! Now we know the character behind the slick words! Wonder how he would like becoming disabled in a car wreck and learning the pain and humility of playing Hoops from a chair? Imagine...kissing up to Iran (they will kill us all if given the leeway) and dissing the good and honorable people of Special Olympics! This is NOT a leader, and the comment was BUSH league.

    March 20, 2009 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  20. dave b

    Comrad obama does not make misstakes!!!!!!!!Destroy the teleprompter!..........

    March 20, 2009 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  21. randro

    We are supposed to believe H got a degree from Harvard? How did H get in....bowling scholarship???

    March 20, 2009 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  22. Gordon

    And THIS is what CNN calls breaking news. How pathetic. Who's
    the a __hole there doing the monitoring?

    March 20, 2009 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  23. Sally

    This man and his administration is a JOKE! I just read another article on him by Peggy Noonan – "He's everywhere and nowhere". How sadly and dangerously true!

    March 20, 2009 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  24. zee

    It is very convenient to quote scripture and to piety about a rather insignificant comment of self-deprecation. We are also reminded to "judge not." Mr. Obama has apologized and invited them to the White House; maybe they can give him lessons. Get over it and volunteer in a worthwhile charity.

    March 20, 2009 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  25. nadinewi

    I love this President but was dissappointed at his joke. I'm glad he apologized. Unlike Rush Limbaugh who made fun of Michael J. Fox and his battle with Parkinsons disease.

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