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. shekib

    it was a joke. its not like hes responsible for starting two wars, trillions in debt and hundreds of thousands of innocent lives blood on his hands......i guess all you republicans think bush is too good to apologize for any of that..

    March 20, 2009 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  2. Brendan H., San Antonio, TX

    I'm still waiting for fearless, Jet-Pilot to apologize for his film skit that he presented at a big dinner in which he keeps searching for WMD's – "No WMD's under there, etc" People died over that gaffe in judgment, in Obama's case he was lampooning himself and chose the wrong organization to drive the point home.

    Well, right-wingers, what say ye to that?!?!?!

    March 20, 2009 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  3. Bill Gilbert

    I'm a Republican and would like nothing more than to see him exposed for the bleeding heart liberal he is. However, I spend a lot of time speaking in front of groups and know that if you do it alot, you are going to make an occasional mistake. Let's give him a break on this because I don't feel he really has anything but respect for the special olympics and its members and supporters.


    March 20, 2009 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  4. Truth

    I really can't believe that so many of you are using the President's gaffe as another excuse to slam him – actually, I shouldn't be surprised – most of you don't need any excuse at all.....

    I'm sure that there is not one of the nearly 500 posters who hasn't unintentionally put their foot in their mouths at least once in their lives!

    What really, really disturbs me is that CNN has left this forum (and other relatively unimportant ones) open for comments WAY beyond other forums – healthcare for instance. CNN really needs to get their priorities straight!!!!!

    March 20, 2009 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  5. Daniel

    I'm sorry did I miss something? Did Obama say he wants to beat Trigg Palin with a stick simply for being born with Down's? No? He just made a special olympics joke? Oh, ok. Anyone who is offended needs to never say or do the following: suggest that someone rides the "short bus"; claim that they just said something "retarded"; never watch Family Guy, South Park, Something About Mary, or the Office; lastly, they need to dive off a cliff. Be sure to die, though, because you wouldn't want to spend the rest of your life as a reatrded vegetable, right?

    March 20, 2009 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  6. LAR

    I’m not an Obama supporter, I don’t agree with his policies and don’t really like the guy, but it’s sad that the leader of this country can’t even make a self deprecating joke without some segment of our hyper sensitive population getting their shorts in a wad. Give the guy a break!

    March 20, 2009 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  7. K

    IDIOT!!! This is just another way to show how stupid he is, of course wasn't it enough when he thinks that there are 59 states in the U.S...
    Don't believe me... check out Obama Gaffes

    March 20, 2009 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  8. Niko the Farmer

    Until the GOPers express outrage over Rush Limbaugh's imitation of Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's symptoms, they have no credibility on this issue.

    They are making a tsunami out of a breeze. Typical of the blowhards they are.

    Why can't they just shut up and do something productive?

    March 20, 2009 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  9. Oregon calling

    Mike in Kansas, I like your message!

    Peace 🙂

    March 20, 2009 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  10. Sag

    Back down to earth and do away with all the "political correctness'

    Obama does more for everyone every day than ANY of his Bush, Cheney et al.

    He doesn't have to apologize for anything.

    March 20, 2009 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  11. Rebecca

    The comment the President made regarding the Special Olympics was disrespectful and tasteless. I invite him to join our Monday night bowling league where our special olympians can teach him more than just how to be a better bowler.

    March 20, 2009 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  12. voter in AR

    Are people really equating being disabled with being black? LOL! God Bless America! I love this country!... REALLY!

    He apologized. I'm sure that this will make his administration be more focused on working for the families of "disabled" people. It's a "win win" situation.

    March 20, 2009 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  13. Goreful

    You Obama Fanboys are trully pathetic. Honestly I was never a big fan of Bush but man oh man! You guys are just as bad as those who supported the war.

    The more you defend and excuse a politician the more idiotic you trully look! Get a serious life already!

    March 20, 2009 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  14. Obama Supporter

    To: Dark knight

    WOW, so the other cultures are not innocent when someone makes a joke about them. That was ignorant

    March 20, 2009 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  15. Jerahks

    If this is freaking everyone out, we are in trouble. Lets concern ourselves with real issues. And lets not forget the Pres is a Human Being and will make mistakes. Hopefully his biggest mistake will only being minor compared to last administration!!

    March 20, 2009 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  16. walleye

    Of course all the Obama haters will be attacking him on this, but if any one of them never made such a mistake let them cast the first stone. I believe that he really did not mean to insult anyone, and was just trying to be funny. He probably realized his error as soon as it came out of his mouth and being the kind of guy he is issued an apology. Now lets move on to something more important – like bashing the GOP.

    March 20, 2009 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |

    His appearance is another pay back for all the money he received from hollywood to get into the whitehouse.

    Much like the AIG bonuses all a payback for money getting him into office....

    Everyone should remember this is the first of many paybacks....

    Nothing in life is given free for every action there is a reaction....

    March 20, 2009 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  18. John

    I'm an Obama fan but this was bad...especially considering that he didn't cut Imus any slack – at all. Even worse is that Imus is just Imus while Obama is the president.

    March 20, 2009 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  19. Cory

    Well one of my Special Olympics athletes that I coach, made a statement that he could be president just like Obama, you know what? I think there would be little difference between the two, actually my player would make a better one.

    March 20, 2009 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  20. TheDurkinKnight

    Oh, and before any of you oxygen thieves use the following statement ..."the difference between making an insensative joke about a special needs person vs a minority or culture is that THESE individuals, really are innocent" say that I was implying minorities and certain cultures WERE NOT innocent, let me clarify: I mean special needs people are innocent in that they lack the capacity to understand insensative jokes or why people make them...don't need to have my own comments spun:D

    March 20, 2009 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  21. some random guy

    "some republican guy" wrote... He said something stupid. He should be impeached.

    Now that's funny....

    Hmm... How would we have applied that rule to Bush or any other president....

    Give Obama a break ... he is human just like you... All those who have never made a mistake .. please stand up.. and if you stand up... that intself is a mistake and dissqualifies you. 🙂 ha ha ha

    March 20, 2009 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  22. Seriously?

    "If he were a republican nothing would have been said about it" ?...

    wow. You must be a liberal AND a moron.

    March 20, 2009 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  23. craig

    It was a joke. Has American lost its sense of humor?
    I wish more politicians would be less politically correct as Obama was on Leno. It shows he is a real person, not a robot or a teleprompter.

    March 20, 2009 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  24. Timoteo

    My goodness. If everybody who's whining about this did something useful, instead, we'd be out of the recession, cancer would be cured, and we'd all be going to heaven.

    Get a life!

    March 20, 2009 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  25. JB

    I'm sure NOone else on this board has ever made an inappropriate joke or comment when with friends. Called A friend retarded when joking with them, repeated a racial joke that was actually funny, etc etc. Right. I'm part mexican, and I find some of the mexican jokes funny!!! What makes a joke funny is the bit of truth in them!

    You would think with all these politically correct saints, the world would be a nicer place to live. Where the heck do all these jokes come from if no one is saying this stuff?????? How do they get circulated if no one repeats them???

    I've volunteered for many years at special olympic events. It's wonderful. What he said was definitely inappropriate for national TV. But it was a faux paux. It's not like he said they didn't offer value to the world, he just said they don't necessarily bowl that well. If you've ever volunteered for an SO event, you would know that's true!

    And at least he could READ a teleprompter. The other one had his speeches written too, the only difference was he couldn't READ THEM!

    March 20, 2009 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
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