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. alreadytiredofit

    I would of watched if he'd been on Letterman – Leno sucks

    March 20, 2009 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  2. Elvis Smith in Studio City, CA

    Having worked on the Obama campaign for two years, and being the father of a disabled child, I was frankly shocked and upset by this. I feel is shows a lack of awareness of the challenges families face with special needs members. I only hope this "gaffe" will give Barack a heightened awareness, AND bring more attention for the need for the removal of the "R" word from the daily dialog. OK Mr. President, show us what you are willing to do for the disabled!

    March 20, 2009 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  3. Arden

    I think people are really becoming overly sensitive. I did not find the comment offensive because he was referring to himself. I have heard more offensive things coming out of the mouths of politicians on national television every single day and believe me they don't apologize. He explained himself, please move on.

    March 20, 2009 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  4. E Kent

    Interesting. None of the Special Olympics people took offense at Barak Obama's statement. However, it appears many mentally challenged people did.

    March 20, 2009 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  5. Regular People

    He did say something stupid.
    He also apologized.

    The point about bringing up past presidents & VPs is to show that if people want to be hyper-punitive, there are many worse past transgressions where no apology has ever been offered and deserve a lot more attention than the already 500+ comments we see here.

    March 20, 2009 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  6. Joe the Troll

    Why should he care? I'm sure the Special Olympians voted for McCain.

    March 20, 2009 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  7. Louis

    I am a senior citizen who has been disabled for 50 years and I thoroughly enjoyed the Presiden'ts remarks. He made me laugh. Sometimes "humor" is the only thing that can get us through the difficulties if Life. Once you lose your ability to laugh at yourself, you might as well cut off your head.

    Can't laugh at yourself or your predicament? You're more disabled than I am. Must really suck to be YOU!

    March 20, 2009 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  8. Carrie

    All my right wing friends have jumped all over this as I am sure they would that he is a horrible human being!. But this was a mistake prue and simple and he got it right off and apologized long did it take Bush to apologize about the Mission Accomplished banner! And many other things just went flying in the wind! Obama is human and made a mistake. And he messed up and said so .....that in my book is what he should have done!

    March 20, 2009 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  9. jummai

    who are these very angry people that take every word said by obama out of context? they can't even relax enough to take anything easy! you don't like Obama, your business! take a dive for the ocean and let us live pleaseeeeeeee!

    March 20, 2009 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  10. phonybarry

    Two words.........."DOUBLE STANDARD"...........If Bush quipped that remark his head would be on the proverbial pike.

    And for all you lemmings out there who can only parrot the talking points of the liberal left because you're either too lazy, self absorbed or plain stupid to make an informed decision on your own try to at least offer an explanation to your blatantly misguided statements instead of parroting a simple slogan.

    March 20, 2009 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  11. jeff

    President Obama has done a very fine job, the remark last night was in light of himself, Get a life people, surely there is more important issues then this...

    March 20, 2009 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  12. ck

    What the heck is the President of the United States doing on a late night comedy show anyway??

    Especially as Russia rearms itself, Iran has nukes, the economy is in the toilet etc etc....

    Wake Up America!!

    March 20, 2009 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  13. ~~ July ~~

    Cary March 20th, 2009 12:51 pm ET

    Didn't know there were so many mothers of special olympian bowlers that posted on the ticker……………hmmm

    LOL!!! .... right on the spot!

    I can NOT stop laughing!!! ... jajaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaajajaa

    March 20, 2009 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  14. Mary

    Free advertising for the Special Olympic Committe.. Acutally they should thank him

    March 20, 2009 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  15. Paul from NYC

    It's very telling that pretty much all the Obama-haters have to preface this with "Imagine if Bush said this..."

    They apparently don't see ANYTHING wrong with the content of what was said, just that if Bush said it the 'crybaby liberals' would be upset.

    Talk about manufactured outrage.

    March 20, 2009 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  16. Leslie Mary- Rosemead

    After reading these remarks, I had to add the following: I watched the show and I heard the remark: SIMPLY PUT, OBAMA WAS SELF-DEPRECATING. DUH! There was nothing mean about what he said. Get a life, people. By the very nature of the Special Olympics, those who participate do so b/c they cannot do so in the regular Olympics. Why? Because they are disabled in some manned! We are not all equal. But we as Americans simply cannot accept this. Thus, all kids receive awards in little league, soccer, etc. We are so afraid of hurting God, we had beter get tough or this country will not make it through the mess we are in. At 58, I have a very good position and continue to earn a good salary...but I lost 38% of my retirement....should I cry? claim that it is not fair? You know what, I saw Obama bowl, and I have worked in the Special Olympics for years...guess what, he did bowl like a special olympics person.

    March 20, 2009 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  17. Shawn

    OH MY GOD!!!

    Obama made a mildly insulting joke that was not funny. I am OUTRAGED!

    But I love GW Bush, who shredded the US Constitution, blew up a trillion dollars for lies, killed thousands of people, committed war crimes, tanked the economy, shattered our alliances, quadrupled terrorism worldwide, continued destroying the planet to enrich his oily buddies, tortured, humiliated & weakened the USA and strengthened our enemies.


    ...or something like that. Freaks.

    March 20, 2009 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  18. jake

    I think Americans did make-up for hurting its credability by reelecting Bush in 04 by overwhelmingly voting for Obama with whom the whole world shares a pride not only for his orignis, but for his deeds and leadership...

    March 20, 2009 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  19. ~~ July ~~

    Lola March 20th, 2009 12:51 pm ET

    I'm offended by his comment and the double-standard. It's okay to crucify some for politically incorrect statements and not others. Oh, and Obama would lose handily to a Special Olympics bowler. He would flat out lose if he bowled a pathetic 129.

    and who said he did not think his bowling was pathetic? He did say he suck at bowling ... duh

    March 20, 2009 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  20. Jason

    Why in the world did the tele-prompter tell him to say that anyway?

    March 20, 2009 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  21. IndyVoter

    The reason that there is a SPECIAL OLYMPICS

    March 20, 2009 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |

    Most people have compared themselves or others to those w/ impediments jokingly, when they mess up, or basically are horrible at something......... He didn't mean it to be evil or anything...... However as President one must be politically correct at all times......I watched the interview, and you could hardly hear that comment audibly...... Okay two months into the new Presidency, and I believe we've scrutinized him so much, called him every name, predicted dooms day scenarios, now I really feel we need to relax, and get ourselves together, and scrutinize ourselves.......Our country depends on our effectiveness........

    March 20, 2009 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  23. kraemertwinz

    somehow, hey will find a way to make this bush's fault...

    March 20, 2009 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  24. vet in texas

    Touche Cory, but the lie about cheating on your wife is much more worse than lying to all of us about yellow cake and the ensuing lives that are changed because of it. The only victims to the cigar in tuna town was the dress wearer and the whistle blower.......true republicans will have to wait til 2017 for their day, the rest of the wannabees need to go the the unemployment office for their benefit extensions unless they live in AK, SC, TX, or LA.........

    March 20, 2009 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  25. TheDurkinKnight

    ****Shawn**** I'm not even a Republican and I think you're a pinhead! These people aren't all necessarily Republican either, they're just upset that "The One" could make such a careless remark. And btw, the people who were not yelling while Bush was "Shredding the Constitution" or "Committing War Crimes" were probably just relieved to see a president strike back since we got hit THREE TIMES under Clinton and all he did to retaliate was philander with his intern...Now if you wanna sit at the BIG BOY table, lets talk like big boys okay:D

    March 20, 2009 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
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