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. JustMe

    Just skimmed the comments. OK...what am I not getting? We have an unexperienced "regular guy" in the White House who seems to be in WAY over his head. I agree, we all say stuff we shouldn't. But, excusing this demeaning language from the President, no less, by saying he is just a "regulary guy" and he really didn't mean to insult American citizens, when others have been slammed for much less, astonishes me. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but don't we have a huge mess in our economy? Don't we have a number of huge extremely critical issues that we are paying him to fix. Didn't "we" elect him to fix the mess??? Change now. Bah! And don't use the Bush crutch. (Seems to me I remember Clinton deregulating the banks, which probably started this mess.) Granted, he didn't start the "illegal" war, but isn't he the one who "floated" the idea of letting our veterans get their own insurance to save money? Give me a break! He should be at his place of business doing the job the taxpayers are paying him to do....not going on a late night showing his "comedic" prowess. How many "regular guys" and working men and women have the license of walking away from their jobs, at will, and schedule in "play days"? Ask any small business owner.

    March 20, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  2. Chris

    President Barack Quayle! help, i can't think without my telepromter!

    March 20, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  3. matt

    All of these posts say, "Get over it." "He's only human." "Move on." These are the same people that would be first in line to tell you that Bush is an idiot, he sounds like an idiot, he looks like an idiot, etc etc etc.

    The fact is that the President should be held to a higher standard than the average American. The President is the example of America that the rest of the world looks to. If the President (Obama, Bush or anyone else) were to say something disparaging about Hispanics, or Jews or any other segment of society, would you same people be standing up and saying "Get Over it"? I would certainly hope that partisanship could be placed aside and the people's outcry could be heard.

    Mr. President, while I believe what you said was a slip of the tongue, I am shocked that those words would even be uttered from the leader of my country. I expect more from my President, regardless of your political affiliation or mine.

    March 20, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  4. Holly

    I cannot believe that the President of our United States went on the Tonight show and acted a fool. How respected can he be to the world when all he wants to do is be a Hollywood star. How ridiculous is that when our country is hurting right now . Since Obama became president we have become the laughing stock of the world. We don't need our president making fun on TV when main street Americans are out of work, losing their homes and trying to keep their kids in school with little or no resources. And only the rich are getting richer and richer.....please stay in the Oval Office....keep your attention on our nation. That is what you were elected to do.

    March 20, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  5. Anonymous

    Obama is a political screw up.....He is standing behind Geithner and the whole economy mess but Geithner was a crook in the first place by not paying his taxes like WE ALL have too.....its no wonder things are a mess more now..... this country is only going to get worse....i thought we didnt really have a very good selection this election ..Republican or Democrat....but everyone who thinks Obama is some kind of savior are so mistaken.....he is a sneeky politician who only speaks well becuase he has a teleprompter all the time....and some others have posted on here that he still acts like he is campaigning...its because he is not confident in what he is doing so he keeps going back to his campaigning ways thinking that people will belive that he is really doing something when all he has done is cause more of a mess.....and he has only been President for 2 months....wait till he has been in office for two years ....people will not be able to wait to get him out of that office....

    March 20, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  6. frombelair

    give the man a brake, and get lost, I know everything you say is perfect, this is the best president you`ve ever had in your life, and you don`t know it, and that `s a mental disability.

    March 20, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  7. Kathy

    I voted for Obama. I worked for Obama. I contributed financially to the campaign. I defend him everyday . but, I have a son with Down Syndrome. I am extremely offended that the president feels himself superior to those who participate in the Special Olympics. I am very angry. I don't need to grow up or get a thicker skin. I need a president who realizes that the R-word is just as offensive as the N-word.

    March 20, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  8. aksdhiew

    March 20th, 2009 11:34 am ET

    @ Ryan Anderson March 20th, 2009 9:24 am ET

    BULLSH*! Idiots on this blog ask for his impeachment every single day, based on absolutely nothing. If presidents could be impeached for stupid remarks, We wouldn't have suffered the last 8 years of hell. The interview was great, the audience laughed at that comment, there were no gasps of horror.
    LOL Are you serious? They crowd has a sign that lights up that tells them when to laugh/applaud!

    March 20, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  9. RLE

    Onno Udemma,
    While I would agree that the president's remark was not appropriate, I don't think you can compare it to being called the N word. What special needs person do you know had been lynched...

    March 20, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  10. Pedro Abad-Alvarez

    Please give Mr. 'Barama' a break! In his mind, knowing that 300 is a perfect score, and remembering that he had recently scored 37, he obviously meant it as a compliment when he said a score of 100+ is worthy of Special Olympic status, thus placing himself humbly below the achievement level of individuals with performance challenges. But of course, he was the only person privy to the relative meaning of those numbers at the moment he made his off-the-cuff coment, and what may have made perfect sense to him obviously did not to anyone else listening...Knowing Mr. 'Barama's' humility beneath his outward self-confidence, as we all know by now, should leave no doubt in anyone's mind regarding his intentions, whether he uses the 'politically-correct' terms to verbalize them or not. PAA

    March 20, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  11. Barney

    I didn' t watch it, I could care less about what he said there...or anywhere else for that matter.

    Maybe he should get on the "View" and formally apologize. Then on to "Ellen's show" and "Jerry Springer". Besides isn't that why y'all voted for make TV better. Atleast that way he may be detracted from running the country, you know, his other responsibility.

    March 20, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  12. Mary J.

    You know what Just Me? It took over 20 plus years to get us here. If you know so much why don't you take over and let's see what you can accomplish in 60 days. Have at it...

    March 20, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  13. Some republican Guy

    He said something stupid. He should be impeached. This whole country went down the tubes the day Saddam Hoosain blew up the world trade center and now that Nancy Pelosi is gonna give all them jobs at ACORN to illegal immigrants and we all have to pay 90% income tax to support all those socialist welfare queens. My head's gonna explode!

    March 20, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  14. Sara

    Its about time people stopped being so sensitive to every little word somebody says. If we'd concentrate on more important things and worrying about hurting someone's feelings, we'd be in much better shape. He wasn't saying anything offensive. And no matter who made a comment like that (Obama or Bush or McCain, etc) it still would have been a funny comment and nothing offensive. Lighten up people. And I agree with a previous posting – nobody seemed to worry when Jay said the bowling alley was burned and a basket ball court put in. People today just seem to be looking for something else to complain about. Don't we have enough problems without this petty stuff??

    March 20, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  15. mike w.

    Obama doesn't need to hire a special athlete to show that people with disabilities are able to contribute to society. We had someone running the country for the last 8 years that proved that.

    March 20, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  16. BusyMom

    I was just listening to a radio show here in Minneapolis that was addressing this topic and every single person that called in said that this was blown way out of proportion. The radio show actually asked people who had a child with special needs or worked with people with special needs or were involved with the Special Olypics to call in. The majority of the people calling had those connections and still said that President Obama's comment was not a problem and they were not the least bit offended.

    March 20, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  17. Jan

    Correction - He "didn't" use any of those words.

    March 20, 2009 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  18. Janice in OK

    Why is this such a big deal? People need to just get over it! He just cracked a joke – that's all it was. He was making fun of himself – not the handicapped. If he were a Republican, nothing would have been said about it.

    March 20, 2009 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  19. Larry

    he apologized. next...

    March 20, 2009 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  20. David

    Now we know why he uses teleprompters for all of his comments. His unscripted remarks provide some insight into the real person rather than the scripted version we usually see. How about President Obama stick to the duties of the President and lighten up on his quest to even further develop his celebrity icon status. Do we really need to have a president go on the Tonight Show and broadcast his college basketball picks????

    March 20, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  21. dln

    Why is the president of the United States on Jay Leno or any other entertainment talk show?

    March 20, 2009 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  22. Barry

    As punishment, they should remove the bowling alley from the White House and require President Obama to play a round of golf with Tiger Woods at Oakmont.

    March 20, 2009 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  23. David

    Obama's true nature is coming out very quickly. This is just another example. He was not and is not presidential material.

    March 20, 2009 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  24. Mary J.

    I am out of here and turning off the lying cowards in the 24/7 media who never questioned a darn thing until now. Join me at WWRL for the Ed Schulz show.

    March 20, 2009 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  25. JustMe

    Mary J. That was not my point. My point is, is that Mr. Obama should be at the White House doing the people's work. Seems like he and Congress just signed away trillions of dollars of fica money to bolster the economy. And this from a man who promised "transparancy" in government and that all budgets would be reviewed (by the public???) before being voted on. Neither he nor the congress could wade through 16 reams of paper over a weekend. Give me a break. If he is going to talk the talk, he'd had better walk the walk.

    March 20, 2009 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
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