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. Larry Schlueter

    Not too bad . . . these are comments I expect out of BO . . . he has always talked without knowing what he is saying. If you notice, he did not have a teleprompter . . . end of discussion.

    March 20, 2009 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  2. TyWebb

    Journalism continues at its finest. When did this country become such a collection of wimps that (nearly) everything said has to be apologized for?

    March 20, 2009 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  3. Ann Marie

    OK, I'm waiting. We need the moral indignation. We need a Kennedy coming out and crying on this one. Where are all the liberal victims? Let's make it easy, pretend it was George W. Bush who said it.

    March 20, 2009 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  4. amia321

    I'm sure he didn't mean any harm. Show me a person who hasn't made a "gaffe". People can be so hypocritical. Please don't let this get out of hand.

    March 20, 2009 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  5. Nika

    Hmm .... seems to me to be an inappropriate venue for the leader of the free world. The teleprompter trolls worked a "gotcha" ... perhaps it is time we all learned that Mr. Obama is not our buddy.

    March 20, 2009 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  6. Nathan,

    I knew as soon as I heard it it was going to become a big deal. Move on.

    March 20, 2009 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  7. Rumsfeld

    Good one!

    March 20, 2009 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  8. mike

    Message to CNN- that's not a gaffe, that's a joke. Lighten up.

    March 20, 2009 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  9. MikeinND

    I understand the whole "White House needs to be politically correct" thing, but seriously can anyone not see themselves making a similar joke at something they suck at.

    March 20, 2009 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  10. Alicia

    This is This is ridiculous…the President cannot talk about himself without offending the entire world

    March 20, 2009 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  11. bj, Texas

    Look for CNN to quickly close comments on this blog lest the messaih be harshly criticized. For sure you won't see any lame brain libs commenting about his majesty's latest stupid remark. His true colors came out in front of a national adience. Way to go Oblunder!

    March 20, 2009 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  12. Jana

    HA HA, gotta love it. I guess the teleprompter wasn't anywhere around

    March 20, 2009 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  13. Ryan

    Didn't anyone find it really offensive for him to say that? I voted for him and all, but I gotta say their should be more story here about that stupid comment Obama made. Get back to work and stop filling out brackets with ESPN and talking with entertainment shows.

    March 20, 2009 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  14. Susan - Canada

    Oh please!!!! Do you honestly believe he actually meant what you think he meant!! Good lord....do you have to pick apart everything this man says. I happened to watch the show and I thought he was quite charming...

    March 20, 2009 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  15. barnhardt in NC

    Talk about a non-story. God forbid we have a presidnet who talks like a human.

    March 20, 2009 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  16. special obamics

    Smooth move, ex-lax. Just shows the elitism from the supposed caring libs. Where's the outrage and diappointment? Won't be any as he just misspoke....

    March 20, 2009 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  17. edweena

    President Obama said nothing there to make fun of people with disabilities. Knowing probably that it would be a controversy, the White House quickly responded, as they should! That's a gaffe I can live with, because in the spur of the moment, you can see that he wasn't malicious or anything.

    Funny how they focus on that gaffe and not on the fact that he was so in his element in front of the American people!

    But hey, what the hell right?

    March 20, 2009 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  18. Thy

    Ouch, I bet he cringed after he heard himself say that. The President can't crack jokes like that on TV...well maybe on Def Comedy Jam

    March 20, 2009 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  19. special obamics

    Maybe that was some sort of ebonics??

    March 20, 2009 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  20. Robert W

    The man is doing a great job in a very difficult time. It is sad how many people will take the simplist of remarks and try to make news out of it. Obama has a record that speaks for itself in support of all Americans, but especially those that require special needs. Please stay on real news and get this economy moving again.

    March 20, 2009 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  21. Bruce, Chicago

    Stick with the teleprompter, Mr. Great Speaker. No apology, by the way, just a statement. Nice.

    March 20, 2009 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  22. Jaime

    Having a special needs granddaugher who is the light of my life and will bring a sparkle to anyone she meets, the comment from Barak Obama was extremely insensitive and hurtful. Without core convictions and without a teleprompter I can see how he made the gaffe but it is still very insensitive.

    March 20, 2009 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  23. DA

    On the Tonight Show with Jay Leno President Obama has proven once again that he is in touch with the common people and understand their/our lives. I wish the President much success in the hurdles he has to overcome ahead.

    March 20, 2009 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  24. Barry The Blade

    Thank goodness we have an intelligent, well-spoken, sensitive man in the Whitehouse.

    March 20, 2009 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  25. Rick

    It's a shame he didn't have his teleprompter and seems like he can't make a coherent sentence without it. Well America you voted for Hope and Change. Congratulations because you got one of them – Change and certainly not in a good way. Look how screwed up this administration is in just 60 days. Imagine how screwed up it will be in four years. When is Obama going to quit campaigning and actually look and act like a president?

    March 20, 2009 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
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