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. Pete Caloger

    Gee, I wonder what Hannity and Limbaugh will be talking about today, over and over and over and over.

    March 20, 2009 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  2. Char59

    I am tired of people wanting President Obama to make an apology everytime he says something or does something. Has George W. apologized for our bad state of the economy and running this country in the ground- or did I miss hearing that one?

    March 20, 2009 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  3. Jay

    Wait just a second, did you just say "We're all humans and we all make mistakes"? Where was that attitude anytime W made any kind of mistake? Instead, CNN was all over him.

    The media's bias for Obama has gotten sickening. You people made the leap from journalists to propagandists about 6 years ago. Keep pumping the mighty Obama train as he continues to break campaign promises and run our country into the ground.

    March 20, 2009 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  4. chud

    Where is the outrage when a president of the USA makes fun of the disabled on national tv? If Bush did this, he would be impeached.

    March 20, 2009 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  5. Joanna

    Oh please people impeachment? Really? we wanted Bush impeached for violating our constitution. There is a huge difference. Why are you all so willing to turn a blind eye and give up your freedoms just for Bush? That is why we hated Bush, we love our country and were trying very hard to preserve it. I love Obama, but If Obama does anything like Bush did, i will vote him out too!

    March 20, 2009 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  6. Ken

    Lighten up and get on with the agenda! The point is that there is a mess to be fixed – now let's get on with it!

    March 20, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  7. geemac

    There are more important things going on in America and the world that require our focus than this minor misstep by the president. Out of all the important points he discussed last night and questions answered we are in serious trouble if all we can find fault with is that!! . He released a statement to Special Olympics understanding the 'faux pas' but here we go...the media blitz is about 3 words instead of the overall content of the interview..!!...gimmeabreak!

    March 20, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  8. Topcat16

    Candace, where was your outrage 3,6, 9, 12 months ago? All the things you mentioned just happened two months ago, right?
    Do you remember how long it was before Bush had his cabinet positions filled? What did Irag have to do with 9/11? Stop repeating crap you hear without having any knowledge of what you're spitting, it takes away from the validity of your agrument.

    March 20, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  9. Scott

    The big question for all the talking heads on tv is this...what if McCain, Bush, Jindal, Palin (oh yea..she has a special needs kid...she wouldn't have said this) or Rush had made this comment. The talking heads wouldn't be so..."ya know...he didn't MEAN anything by it!" Rush is right...when the Prez is off the teleprompter, he gives Joe Biden a run for the money. Cmon media..hold the Prez accountable like you would a Republican.

    Scott Lara

    March 20, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  10. Rebecca

    Regarding Obama's comment about the Special Olympics – I am not the least bit offended. We have become far too thin-skinned. As for the Special Oylmpics, I am lukewarm at best. While I applaud the advances made in helping our less-abled, I am a retired teacher and realize that many of these advances have been made at the expense of other children. Look at any public school and examine the mandated resources devoted to the so-called less-abled. Then look at the resources devoted to the gifted. The proportions are way out of line. BTW, I have a learning-disabled son. Did he need help? Yes! As much as he got – no!

    March 20, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  11. Ken

    Amazing at how many liberals/democrats keep defending Obama. He screwed up, it was insulting and he is a fraud and a liar! Since 20 January 2009 Obama has been president and has spent more in 60 days then GW Bush did in 8 years.

    March 20, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  12. dieter


    Yes, I am another righty moron looking for the miniscule error to tell the entire world "I told you so". And by the way, the economy is his fault, housing is his fault, etc.

    Get a life freaking useless morons!!!

    March 20, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  13. adam

    heavens forbid that a president is more like an average human being, and relates to the average american. heavens forbid that we have a president that is looking out for our interests and not those of his own ideals. heavens forbid that we've seen this president out in public, doing hard work on a DAILY basis. Have we become so used to a silent ineffective president who makes no changes and keeps everything at the status quo that anyone that would actually do work and attempt to make a difference to BETTER our country is looked at as a bad person. It makes me very afraid that there are people out there that seem to make negative comments about this president without using their heads or really any sense of logic. He has done more in 8 weeks, minus the war, than bush had done in 8 years. I bring up Bush because you obviously are still in denial that Bush caused all of the mess that we are currently in. It is not Obamas fault. He is the one who is responsible for getting us out of the mess. You need to stop listening to the biased fox news, and start thinking for yourself. Also, ask yourself one question, what has Obama done that has affected you negatively? I'm sure 99% of you can't come up with one thing. Now on the opposite side, what has he done to affect you positively, and I bet 99% of you can come up with something. People need to ask themselves what is at the heart of their dissatisfaction with Obama, and I think only then will they realize that its not Obama that has the problem.

    March 20, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  14. ABM

    Glad to see Obama is human, and I hope that people will forgive him as such. Too bad no one showed the same kindness toward Bush in the early years of his presidency. Granted, Bush made many, many horrible mistakes in terms of his policies, but the press and the Democrats were relentless in their often personal criticisms of him. You may not like him (I don't!), but are you foolish enough to think he's really that dumb? Reminds me of that quote - "the smartest thing the devil did was to make people think he didn't exist". Anyway, I'm no Bush apologist, but the double standard is telling. I just hope people don't turn on Obama as they turned on Bush, because then we'll never get anything done, and we'll never get around to fixing the mistakes of the past 8 years.

    March 20, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  15. Fatima

    It was a poor attempt at a joke and he apologized for it. To those who forever pointing fingers at Obama, make sure your finger don't get stuck or try to point those finger towards you to question your motives.
    At least, he didn't let people of New Orleans sink, lie about WMD, go to war with the wrong country, give irresponsible tax credits to the rich and destroy the economy,

    March 20, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  16. pw

    Hillary would not have done this!! This guy's a joke and America is finding out.

    March 20, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  17. Mark

    I find nothing offensive by his remark, he wasn't disparaging the special olympics. He was mocking himself.

    I'm glad he apologized to all the those who may have been offended, Geez...

    March 20, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  18. jill hill

    Get over it and stop being so sensitve? How hypocritical. It's ok to be sensitive about cartoons that depict the congress as monkeys, but not ok to react when special needs athletes are degraded on national tv? Obama's "slip" was shameful and provides insight into what he really thinks.

    March 20, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  19. Steve


    It's the hypocrisy of CNN and the media. Of course it's a trivial slip in the grand scheme of things but imagine Bush, Rush or Ann making the same slip. Holy you know what would be erupting in the halls of CNN, MSNBC, and CBS.

    March 20, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  20. eduardo

    my sister has down-syndrome. me being furious is not me being over-sensitive. it's not me being unable to 'take a joke'. this is not about 'political leverage'. to me, this is as serious as it gets. this man is humiliating the most innocent, the most precious people on this planet. he's poking fun at the defenseless. my sister would have no idea he was making fun of her. he is a coward. at least gw didn't have to apologize for mocking people with disabilities.

    March 20, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  21. tony

    Guess Who???,

    Guess who won the last election???

    March 20, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  22. ...

    You Obamanites are funny, you keep blaming Bush for everything. First of all Bush didnt lie about 95% of the things he promised on the campaign trail like Obama and the ecnomony is still tanking and Obama has been President for 2 months, Obama never seems to work, he just is always "making appearances" , he's not campaigning anymore, i dont think he understands that. Stop getting brainwashed by everything, oh when obama thanked himself because he always reads the teleprompter......why arent people making fun of that? If it was Bush you would never hear the end of it. Just admit that Obama isnt as good of a leader as you thought he would be, obviously...hope? change? ... right

    March 20, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  23. terri, san diego

    I don't believe OBAMA deliberate intended to insult or offend anyone with a handicap, he was poking fun at himself for his low scores in bowling. You would have to be so full of hate and anger not to understand thatsometimes we say stuff we do not mean, but it comes out wrong.

    March 20, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  24. Rgrant

    Oh, big fat deal. I am so sick of the thought police monitoring every word a public figure makes. It was a harmless remark, disparaging only to himself. The reporters who are jumping all over this probably say much worse a dozen times before breakfast. The man is trying to lead this country at one of the worst moments of its history. Do you really have to analyze and pick apart every word that comes out of his mouth? Are the news outlets so desperate for material that they have to pander to one of the lowest element in our society? And yes, I consider the self-righteous political-correctness bullies to be among the lowest of the low. Why don't you people find a worthwhile cause and start building something instead of trying to rip apart our society and recreate it into your smug little self image?

    March 20, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  25. KEH

    OK here's another politically correct moment that can taken anything out of context... I didn't even vote for Obama (so I'm not one of those "Obama is God" type individuals), but I do like him and heaven forbid the man show personality. I know, as uncouth as it may be, I would have probably made a similar comment. It was a joke... and I think everyone knows it was nothing malitious.

    So he apologizes, GREAT! Now... he's been cornered into hiring someone from the Special Olympics or else he's a bad president who hates people with disabilities... give me a break! The man has a big heart, I most definitely have to give him that!

    March 20, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
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