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. Giot777

    This is just ridiculous, I do wonder what the people the run the special Olympics say about this, they probably laughing about the joke, yes the joke. And I mean the special Olympic not you republicans. And yes you republicans are special in your own way :)

    March 20, 2009 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  2. Bill in Florida

    Well stated Kate... Political correctness is out of control in this country, so what he made a slip of the tongue. How many of you "outraged" people have never said anything stupid? Get over it.

    March 20, 2009 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  3. Edith

    I support the President Barack Obama, I see nothing wrong with him being on J. LENO show, I see nothing wrong with his agenda President Obama is cable of doing many things at once I love that he is working very hard. The Mistakes made have nothing top do with his abilities to do his job as he see fit he is president and can carry out his agenda as he see fit and able I support him. I am pertubed by the way the Republicans are acting I have not good feelings about their intentions I don't beleive they are in the best interest of the public but in the interest of there own agenda. I say to the Republicans I expect you to back of this finger pointing bring forth your great Ideas and plans work with this president get the job done. News media while I like the fact that you are doing what you can to help people find jobs and all the good things you do but I cannot stand how your behavior is about reporting the news you sound and act like VULTURES waiting for the kill. how unprofessional stop beating news to death 10 times over every news casters repeat the same thing over and over. We are intellgent people we do not need you to analyze situations for us. You look so dogmatic KNOCK IT OFF.

    March 20, 2009 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  4. Mike

    Okay.. he said it! he opened his big mouth inserted his big foot.... He apologised for it.. No one was hurt; no one died; LET IT BE PEOPLE!! I find it refreshing that he actually appeared before a live studio audience and talked to the people. If you "wound-licking" Republicans would just back off and quit making "Mindless" posts on CNN we would all be better off...... You know President Obama is admitting his mistakes and "APOLOGISING" publicly about them...WOW WHAT A CONCEPT???!!! He is doing a great job so far and working really hard to jump-start the economy.. At least he admits that we are in a recession and possibly on our way to a depression....Gee did 'W' admit that??????????????????? that would be a BIG FAT... "NO!" President Obama has at least has the strength to tell the TRUTH to the American people.. WOW ANOTHER GREAT CONCEPT.... Just get over the hatred and work with your President to make America strong again.... Quite arguing Republican this or Democrat that.. WE ARE AMERICANS....

    March 20, 2009 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  5. Lani

    It was in the spirit of the moment and It was late night tv. Besides worse things have been said on late night tv. I personally found it very funny

    March 20, 2009 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  6. Kevin in Ohio

    Jackie in Dallas.... Political Correctness is a product of the left-wing in this country..... and WE are taking it too far????? Come on now, get real.

    March 20, 2009 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  7. Chip Pudims

    Our President is made out of teflon. He gets away with gaffes like this, yukking it up on Leno while DC is burning,, demoralizing our economy and saying he only wants to look forward, while he daily reminds us that he "inherited" this mess. Does anyone out there actually believe the AIG bonuses were an act of God, while he and Dodd were no. 1 and 2 recipients of donations from AIG management? How long will this honeymoon last?

    March 20, 2009 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  8. John

    Gretel
    16. We have no Ideas, no Solutions, and we can only engage in petty criticisms of the new popular president
    ************************************************************************
    Yes because that is all Conservatives want to do, is pick apart, or maybe just call those out that oversensative on one issue, and okay with other issues as long as it involves their political hero, maybe he should have never gone on Leno in the first place, maybe the AIG bonus gaffe should have reminded him that he has a lot of issues within his own party, and maybe he should remember that he came second only to Dodd, for campaign contributions from AIG.

    I have a problem with DC as a whole, and i think every single political position should have term limits, we have too many senators and representatives that get comfortable and can play the game.

    And Dems are going to have to come up with a new category because a lot of conservatives are distancing themselves from the republican party

    also check for your local Tea party this year, there was one in Cincinnati recently that had 4000 people, another one will be in Houston over the summer, but google Tea Party 2009 and find a local one to protest the direction "our" country is going.

    March 20, 2009 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  9. Get Well Soon GOP

    Wow, only a Muslim born in a distant land would say something like that! Thats what happens when they get uppity.

    March 20, 2009 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  10. face it america you are mad because we have an African-American as our Commander and Chief

    Move on and stop being so critical. Can some of you please take the microscope off of President Obama! Get over it! He won! Lets make this country a better place now.

    March 20, 2009 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  11. charlie

    Is this a big deal? – Probably not
    Was he being a jerk? Yes
    Do I like him? Less and Less everyday he has been president.

    March 20, 2009 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  12. Larry from Apex, NC

    To Mike in Texas: You just don't get it! Any comment from anyone in Texas has no validity. Soon you empty skulls will succeed from the Union and become a rouge state. Texas should have a law that REQUIRES the wearing of big cowboy hats to cover their pinheads.

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

    I support the hires and the policy changes made by this administration. I intensely dislike Obama as a person. Off-guard for a few minutes with an adoring audience – he had to go cross country to get one, but whatever it takes – he makes yet another casual remark that reveals who he really is.

    Apologies are pretty weak if it's your kid he's talking about.

    March 20, 2009 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  14. P C

    BHO = Barack Hindenburg Obama

    March 20, 2009 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  15. Common Sense Republican

    I am just surprised that no one is screaming: This is all Bush's fault!!!

    March 20, 2009 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  16. SHIRLEY "60"

    I'm sure that our very presidential president meant no offense to any particular group. We all have probably made a similar comment at some point, and meant no offense to anyone in particular or as a group. He's only human, despite what his detractors continuously have to say. I actually stayed up late to watch this show, and saw a president who is smart, charming, elegant, and articulate, who calmly put forth his plan for our country. He has charisma from the top of his head to his feet, and I am very proud of him. After the Clinton years, I thought we would never be able to see a competent president and administration that we could be proud of again, but we have lucked out, and should being doing everything that we can to help this president. That goes twice as much for the media, as they are the ones who seem to be inciting people to riot by constantly doing what they consider to be necessary news over, and over, and over. I now see more than ever why certain factions are so down on them, they are really boring and are not helping at all.

    March 20, 2009 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  17. Marla- FL

    When did the US populace become so thin-skinned and dystopian?
    <<<<<mourning the loss of the Good Ole America of Yore

    March 20, 2009 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  18. Jane

    Hey, Deborah, Jeff, Rob and all others who do nothing but pick apart everything that Obama says and does. Is this your contribution to the world, to blog about how other people are not bettering your life for you? Get off your A$$ and the internet, quit dogging other people and do something productive. This is ridiculous. How are you helping the economy?

    March 20, 2009 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  19. Cage

    He is the President of the United States and he can say whatever he wants to say. Plus, it was funny. The only thing I'm upset about is that he apologized. The President shouldn't apologize to anyone. I wish he would show some more toughness and swagger.

    March 20, 2009 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  20. Marc in Arizona

    Gee whiz ... leave this man alone already. After 8 years of imbecileville, what a pleasure. At least his is not a walking gaffe.

    March 20, 2009 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  21. jessi

    leave it to the media to take .5 seconds of an interview and turn it into something bigger than what it was. he clearly was speaking candidly and meant nothing of it. loosen up! i'm surprised sarah palin isn't soap boxing off this though...

    March 20, 2009 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  22. Hall for Obama

    At least we know he is not Jesus and don't have to walk on water. You without sin please get in line with Jesus. If you never made a mistake you are human.

    March 20, 2009 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  23. At Last

    Actually, if Bush had made that comment no one would have said anything because the comment would represent the rule rather than the exception. The man is human in spite of the "messiah" tag that the republicans continue to hang on him.

    March 20, 2009 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  24. StrangeView

    WOW! It is amazing how quickly everyone has come to the defense of the President after making such a insensitive statement! I wonder if the same people would be so forgiving if Bush said the exact same thing when he was President?

    March 20, 2009 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  25. BUCKWHEAT19

    A) This man should not be using taxpayer $ to fly to California to appear on a TV show
    B) It is disgusting to think that a person who is supposed to be the leader of ALL Americans would insult a disabled group of Americans.
    C) Why is the President spending so much time away from Washington? Is he trying to avaid the heat? There is lots of work to be done. He needs to be back there doing the job we are paying him to do.
    d) Can you imagine if a siiting republican President would have said something like this?

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