March 20th, 2009
10:48 AM ET
6 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. Steve in CT

    So soon this guy shows his true persona. Less than 4 years to go.

    March 20, 2009 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  2. the dude

    lets move on people...if you do think this is an important issue, may I reccomend you tune into Fox News....

    March 20, 2009 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  3. Sniffit

    @ Holly, who said "Since Obama became president we have become the laughing stock of the world. "

    Wow, are you living under a rock? Bush made us the laughing stock...well, not really a laughing stock...more like angry-disappoint-want-to-throw-rocks-at-us stock for 8 years and by ALL reports, the only places Obama has a sizeable group of idiots who don't like him is in his own country and some cave in Afghanistan that we haven't quite found yet.

    March 20, 2009 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  4. William

    Please note: All negative comments in this thread are brought to you by the "conservative" equivalent of Iran's "hair police". Sociopathic, futile and insignificant as ever, these naysayers just never grew past bitter.

    March 20, 2009 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  5. Ron

    “Special Olympics asks Obama to consider hiring athlete”

    It is funny that less then 12 hours after Obama had his slip up, that the Special Olympics wants him to hire one of their own. This an example of a bird waiting for its prey. Let’s blow this slip up out of proportion and force him to hire our guy as an apology.

    March 20, 2009 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  6. Casey

    Totally blown out of proportion. He is on a late night show and he is performing for an audience. I am also sure not not one of you speaking out against him has never made any remark of a stereotype ever. Get real. Find something meaningful to complain .about.

    March 20, 2009 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  7. Julie

    Has everyone out there forgotten the movie, "There's Something About Mary"??? The entire movie garners laughs from their Special Olympics characters. It was not carried out mean-spiritedly, just as Barack Obama's comment was not. He was making fun of himself. I remember this movie being quite a hit, and I don't remember all this over-the-top sensitivity being so apparent upon the movie's release. Lighten up, people.

    March 20, 2009 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  8. Sniffit

    @ Lewes, who said "Movement! Special Olympics is not a movement, it's a program and a very successful one without any help from him! "

    The only movement I'm seeing here is a semantics bowel movement. Give it a rest.

    March 20, 2009 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  9. taylor from dallas

    This discussion board is proof that the reason we are in this mess is because of ourselves. We care more about some stupid gaffe than the whole mess that our whole world is in. Americans are the most ignorant population in the world. We are probably the only culture out there that pays more attention to the gaffe their president makes than any of the other policies he makes. So everyone quit acting like you care, becuase if you really cared you would put focus on helping everyone out in a time of trouble rather than focusing on some stupid sentence that the media picked up and ran with it becuase they know that americans competence level cannot handle any news that does not have to do with some kind of hollywood gossip. The problem is not the government; its the American people for being so close minded. To prove this point all one has to do is point out that out of all the industrialized nations we are the only country that has a significant population that still believes the world is only 6,000 years old. Move on America.

    March 20, 2009 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  10. Doug

    The President? Higher standards?

    Is this how Bush was elected twice? By holding the Office of the Executive to a higher standard?

    Many people in this country, when polled, say they want someone like them in office...that they want to be able to "have a beer" with the president. Most of you say stupid crap all of the time.

    Don't give me the higher standards BS.

    The remark was off color and I can certainly see how some folks might find it offensive. Now get over it and let's get the country back on track.

    March 20, 2009 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  11. Javin

    It seems like presdent Obama has too much free time on his hands, shouldn't he being working hard in a time of economic crisis rather than rambling about it with Leno.

    March 20, 2009 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  12. Rscan

    Come on folks, get over it. It was just a wise crack that any 'ol nappy haired president could make. Just funny words. No big deal, words don't injure. Doesn't hurt the (already) disabled any more than they hurt already.

    One reason I don't go fishing with rednecks is because I hate to be subjected to this sort of bigotry.

    March 20, 2009 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  13. Don

    Indeed it was a very misguided quote, and we all know President Obama wishes he can take it away. We as human beings are very quick to judge; it's in our nature. What is also in our nature is fallibility. We make mistakes, and then we learn from them. Yes, let us be critical, because being so will ensure that President Obama thinks twice before he speaks in public. However, before you begin to judge a man in public light by his comments, keep in mind everything off color you have ever said, everything and anything that may be perceived as an insult and then thank your lucky stars that your audience doesn't span into the hundreds of millions. If that were the case for me, I'd be in some trouble!!

    We as Americans have different ideals and different perceptions of the world; this is what makes us so great! Without that we would be too monotonous, and that type of complacency doesn't breed progress. This is why we need the criticism. At the end of the day, republicans and democrats, liberals and conservative, we are all on the same boat here. So I encourage everyone who I meet, and everyone who reads this to recognize our differences and put them to the side, so we can work together, strengthen our economy and ensure our economic and national security for future generations to come.

    March 20, 2009 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  14. TheDurkinKnight

    ***********I know Obama didn't MEAN any offense, but the difference between making an insensative joke about a special needs person vs a minority or culture is that THESE individuals, really are innocent, and rely on others to defend them. So what he said was extremely uncalled for, typically the LIBERALS are the ones who point out such un-pc things by the way. ALSO...with the roughly million dollars it cost to transport the president, his staff, the press, AF1 to and from LA for a LATE NIGHT COMEDY TALK SHOW, two people's lifetime incomes could have easily been salvaged. Next time maybe he should save the million + dollars and address the country from his office. Bad Taste people*************************

    March 20, 2009 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  15. AJ in Austin Tx

    Of course Obama slipped. He didn't have his tele-prompter! This was a highly insensitive remark.

    March 20, 2009 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  16. MJ

    @Kathy

    Get over it. He didn't talk about your son, nor did he talked about in in an insulting way. Everyone with a half a brain realized he was making a joke about his ability to bowl.
    Stop using your son's disability as an excuse to feel sorry for yourself. It's not the president's fault your son is disabled. Stop looking for someone to blame for it.

    March 20, 2009 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  17. steve

    LOL,

    The flaming libs won't post any of my comments about how their messiah nobama.

    March 20, 2009 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  18. RSR

    Why did Obama even do that show? 2 wars, economy in dire straits, millions out of work, CEO's stealing stimulas money, Iran going nuclear, North Korea about to test long range missles...gee, I guess with nothing important going on, why not.

    March 20, 2009 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  19. MJ

    @Kathy

    Get over it. He didn't talk about your son, nor did he talked about in in an insulting way. Everyone with a half a brain realized he was making a joke about his ability to bowl.
    Stop using your son's disability as an excuse to feel sorry for yourself. It's not the president's fault your son is disabled. Stop looking for someone to blame for it....

    March 20, 2009 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  20. Ric

    Fatima March 20th, 2009 11:30 am ET

    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,

    Let people of New Orleans sink?? Sorry they live well below sea level. A huricane is a'commin' Duh?? Don't give me this garbage that our gorvenment failed them, they failed themselves. They knew a major storm was brewing and the people didn't want to leave the houses, and I have to pay for their stupidity?? Don't give me that crap that they had no where esle to go either.

    March 20, 2009 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  21. kurt

    Isn't 129 a pretty good score???

    March 20, 2009 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  22. Ken in NC

    President Obama has nothing to apologize about on the comment on Leno last night. He made light of himself. That was all he did and the call for him to hire a disabled athlete to work in the White House amounts to no more that Blackmail.

    Give the man a break. I am mentally challanged and thought it was funny and not offensive.

    March 20, 2009 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  23. Get Well Soon GOP

    Seems to me I remember Clinton deregulating the banks.

    No that would have been HW Bush who started deregulating banks as well as NAFTA. But by skimming your comments it appears to me that you would not support Obama no matter what he said. In fact your screen name says it all. Just Me does not take into consideration anyone else, so how can we take you into consideration. If you want to make the case that Obama is not up to snuff you can do that but you will not be able to use last night's comment to do it. To do so implys that if he did not make the comment he would be good enough.

    March 20, 2009 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  24. The guy from jersey

    Im shocked that republicans are so offended by the president when they have people in their party like ann coulter who participate in gay bashing, or say " we have to perfect the jews" But i guess in the end i understand how republicans would be offended because even republicans have the right to participate in the olympics even if it is the special ones :) So listen guys what the president was trying to say was that ppl like you who are mentally challenged should not expect to be bowling as well as regular ppl, and obama is admitting that with respect to bowling he is as bad at it as you are :)

    March 20, 2009 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  25. MJ

    @Kathy

    Get over it. He didn't talk about your son, nor did he talked about it in an insulting way. Everyone with a half a brain realized he was making a joke about his ability to bowl.
    Stop using your son's disability as an excuse to feel sorry for yourself. It's not the president's fault your son is disabled. Stop looking for someone to blame for it.

    March 20, 2009 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32