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. kevin-pa

    Hey Julie, the dumb one who was trying to compare this and the movie "Some thing about mary"....good one, this guy is the leader of the free world who suppose to tackle cmplex issues...and the one you were trying to comapere was a holllywood movie....oh I forgot you morons voted him bacause Mat demon asked you to do so.

    I would like to see you much time he spend in Oval office to how much time he is on TV. I was in one of the town hall meetings, he was delievering same speeches as he was duuring the campaign..

    once he is done with his 4 yrs i bet e would start a reality show "The Obama's"

    This is getting really funny every day...we dont want a joker, TV president..we just need a president

    March 20, 2009 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  2. Ed

    Dear Obama Apologists,

    Obama said something stupid and ignorant.

    Just because you think poorly of any past president, DOES NOT MAKE HIS STATEMENT OK! Or maybe you think poking fun at a group of disabled citizens make you a good person?

    Hold your elected officials accountable for their actions. It's really that simple. It doesn't matter what party they are from. Or have you all lost your values?

    March 20, 2009 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  3. vet in texas

    So, throwing up in the lap of a foreign dignitary in front of the world, being obviously drunk and looking at the womans beach volleyball teams behinds,misspelling potatoe....oh, I almost forgot SHOOTING SOMEONE IN THE FACE without having a hunting license........amazing! Jindal, Sanford, Perry, and Palin are failing their constituents for the funding the government is trying to give them just to say they were against it in 2012 and we're talking about this........Suck it up Americans and be an American, you can't do anything about it until the 2017 elections because YOUR leaders don't care about YOU.......be resilient, save your money, pay off debt, and live within your means! ONE NATION, UNDER GOD, INDIVISIBLE, WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL!

    March 20, 2009 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  4. Ric

    Obama also has to deal with his picks for the NCAA Tourny!! Screw the economy. This makes him look better. Plus he has to deal with his wife's fat arms in sleeveless dress, an his daughters' school activities. Where can he find time to deal with the country's problems?? Don't forget about the playground we are paying for for his royal highness to put in the backyard of the White House. And the trailer he has to put in for his mother-in-law, but I would kep mine there too

    March 20, 2009 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  5. Dee from Texas

    Whether he meant to say something stupid really isn't my main concern. What IS my main concern is this:

    We are easily headed for a major depression and he's on Jay Leno talking about his bowling score!!

    I guess since most Americans believe his solution of printing more money and handing it to the banks is failing miserably, his main priority is trying to keep his rock-star, cool-guy image.

    Nice priorities, Mr. President.

    March 20, 2009 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  6. William

    To quote the now infamous Pico:

    "Arguing on the internet is like the Special Olympics.. Even if you win you're still retarded"

    March 20, 2009 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  7. Sniffit

    @ Steve in CT, who said "So soon this guy shows his true persona. Less than 4 years to go."

    I know right? It's so refreshing to have a POTUS who recognizes all by himself when he said or did something wrong and then takes the necessary steps to sincerely apologize and make amends. I can't wait for his re-election either.

    March 20, 2009 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  8. BR

    Can't all of you trying to defend President Obama just admit it was a stupid, ill-advised, inappropriate and offensive remark and move on? You're trying to dilute making fun of the Special Olympics by comparing the comments made by the President of the United States to an idiotic movie?

    Really??

    Honestly, stop for a moment in your adulation of Obama and see that–holy cow!–he isn't perfect!

    March 20, 2009 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  9. Matthew, Detroit

    What is funny is that the liberals and self designated PC Police,

    would rail on anyone else. But oops their beloved leader "no" he

    cant possibly be so stupid. What a terrible ignorant man. Oh yes, I

    forgot he is a Dem so the rules dont apply.

    pretty funny. I am sure all the nappy headed hoes feel the same.

    March 20, 2009 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  10. Niko the Farmer

    Dose of reality folks: special olympians have greater challenges than ordinary olympians. That's why they have special olympics and do not compete in the regular olympics.

    Like it or not, this is the way it is. Obama was poking fun at himself, saying he has challenges in bowling. There was absolutely nothing insulting about this comment. If this is all you can grasp onto to criticize the guy, the he's doing a great job.

    March 20, 2009 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  11. Mike

    Ric, you may have gotten used to eight years with a president who can't walk and chew bubble gum simultaneously, but believe it or not Obama can do more than one thing at once.

    March 20, 2009 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  12. JerseyBoy2

    It's interesting to note what people will allow others to get away with if it'sone of their guys. I'm offended by the remarks because my six year old is unable to be. I need for her to grow up in a world where that type of remark is offensive as many remarks that would have been brushed off in the past are now viewed as offensive. And to note, I was similarly offended by Michael Savage's remarks about autism many months ago. These kids are unable to be offended. Unfortunately I am not granted that ability.

    March 20, 2009 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  13. Michael M.

    Braghhh... the minute I heard Obama say that, I knew there'd be trouble.

    It's too bad, the rest of the interview was a slam-dunk. He said a lot of good and wise things, none of which will be recognized after that slip.

    March 20, 2009 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  14. Cary

    The Republicans must be very nervous about their party surviving. A lot of thinly veiled comments going on here.

    March 20, 2009 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  15. Rick

    This only shows one thing...he is human after all. He said something that is offensive to another group (without intending to be hurtful) then he aplogized for his mistake...He is just like all of us!

    March 20, 2009 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  16. TheDurkinKnight

    Thanks for proving my point OBAMA SUPPORTER

    March 20, 2009 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  17. mauricxe

    Clearly, Obama is hanging around Joe Biden too much. He is starting to Gaffe.

    March 20, 2009 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  18. Sc

    What troubles me most is we are running out of people to make fun of. I mean I can't exactly make fun of us normal people. It's just not funny.

    March 20, 2009 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  19. tch09

    As the mother of a Special Olympian who bowls every Friday night I can relate to his comment and I'm not offended in the least. Most of the people that are so offended if you asked them to make a donation of time or money they'd decline. What the Special Olympics need is volunteers not rhetoric clearly designed to criticize the President. Log off and contact Special Olympics and give some time.

    March 20, 2009 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  20. gt

    i am sure some one at msnbc will have some lame excuse for another obama gaf and blame bush ,,,,,

    March 20, 2009 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  21. Karen

    I can't believe this comes as a surprise to any of you. I'm not even American and I could see Mr. Obama couldn't deliver a speech without someone writing it for him. He's not so "eloquent" when he's on his own, is he? You would have chewed up Sarah Palin and spit her out when you were done with her if she had made the comment. All I have to say is, you could have had John Mcain but instead, you let Oprah pick your leader.

    March 20, 2009 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  22. Robin

    I believe that Obama will become a movie star after he is voted out in 2012. He belongs in Hollywood.

    "Obama's Check List"

    1) Feign outrage over AIG bonuses that were legally contracted and I knew about...CHECK

    2) Have my basketball picks ready for liberal media...CHECK

    3) Spend at least $100,000 of tax payer's dollars to appear of Jay Leno show....CHECK

    4) Make fun of mentally challenged individuals on said show...CHECK

    The USA elected a celebrity and sound bite as President of the United States....Good job. No, I really mean it....good job.

    1381 days to go. I'm counting.

    *Let's see if the very liberal CNN posts my comment.*

    March 20, 2009 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  23. Cory

    Vet in Texas,

    I guess that is right up there with taking a cigar to tuna town, getting hummed in the oval office while on the phone with a foreign dignitary, lying about it under oath and being impeached. I think you missed a few of these. More recent, a reset button with Russia? LOL, they are laughing at us more, at least they could have done some research and translated the right word.

    March 20, 2009 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  24. Ric

    Mike, what has Obama done?? Not as President but before hand?? How did pepole get so wrapped up in this guy??

    March 20, 2009 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  25. Lauren

    Apology accepted. This gaffe was an unfortunate choice of words that I don't think was meant to be mean spirited or saId with malice. Move on everyone makes mistakes.

    March 20, 2009 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
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