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. Sandra Thompson

    Ok, who hasn't said something off the cuff and wish that they had not said it. Listened to the comedians lately?

    March 20, 2009 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  2. wendell

    obama is a person who thinks his crap don't stink....he talks down to and makes fun at everybody who is not like or disagrees with him...you people wait and see he don't care about anything but having all the power he can and making as many people dependent upon the goverment as he can and mean and decietful enough to hold them hostage because of it.....you wait and see .....i can't convince you with a few comments on this blog but obama's words will pale when this country and your freedom goes down the toilet

    March 20, 2009 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  3. Jeff

    Just another accidental glimpse of his arrogance. Take note...more to come.

    March 20, 2009 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  4. wwf

    I am sure there will plenty of fools out there who lives revolve around pointing fingers, will jump all over this. I am sure those same fools will make plenty of noise on here.

    March 20, 2009 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  5. 37

    You people need to lighted up. There's a time and place for everything
    And you also need to learn how to address the him.
    PRESIDENT OBAMA
    NOT OBAMA-
    HIPOCRITS

    March 20, 2009 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  6. Ken

    Obama INSULTED Special Kids and their parents and if I were one I would be OUTRAGED at his arrogant insensitive "joke". He IS a joke.

    March 20, 2009 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  7. Jilli

    No big deal. Move on.

    March 20, 2009 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  8. Jamie

    Wow... wait till Savage gets a hold of this one.
    What a baffoon. What the heck is he even doing on that show. Dont they tape this thing during normal business hours?

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

    He is so sensitive to challenged individuals...what a great guy!!!

    March 20, 2009 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  10. Michael Accorso

    This is what happens when his teleprompter is left in Washington.
    I'm starting to think someone else is running things & he's just the puppet they throw out to the podium. Make fun of Bush & Cheney all you want, (God knows they gave us enough material) this administration is nothing but one huge gaff after another.

    March 20, 2009 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  11. What's Good for the Goose...

    Did VP Biden write that great one-liner?

    March 20, 2009 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  12. 37

    You people need to lighted up. There's a time and place for everything
    And you also need to learn how to address him.
    PRESIDENT OBAMA
    NOT OBAMA-
    HIPOCRITS

    March 20, 2009 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  13. George

    You know what? I don't care. If we have to go through life worrying whether everything we say is going to be "politically correct," we lose the freedom of speech. If you're offended, that's your fault.

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

    Typical Arrogant Obama. The Obamanauts in the media will be quick to defend him and sweep it under the rug. Had a republican made the same comment we would be hearing for his resignation

    March 20, 2009 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  15. meh

    How much do you want to bet that the people who are going to be the most outraged about this are the same people who go on and on about the "PC libs"? Just wait!

    March 20, 2009 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  16. matt

    Can you IMAGINE if Bush would have said this??? Some far left idiot would be screaning to arrest Bush for some garbage...This is great!!!hahaha

    March 20, 2009 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  17. Carolyn Adams, NC

    OK Look I am disabled, I took no offense to what the President said, such a big deal made over a simple statement.

    I think it is great to know that a President, is still a person, and down to earth.

    Give it a break. Mr. President I will bowl you anytime.

    March 20, 2009 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  18. SC resident

    His mind seems to be on his ego, not on his job.

    March 20, 2009 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  19. Paul from NY

    OMG! Doesn't CNN have anything better to do than give this non-story such prominent play? Why don't you go cover some actual news for a change?

    March 20, 2009 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  20. Chris from San Antonio

    That's it! I'm voting for McCain.

    March 20, 2009 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  21. Bob

    Funny stuff. Of course most guests on Jay Leno would say this and get a laugh and that'd be it, but since it's a politician, we'll have the small amount of maniacs going on a witch hunt instead of laughing about it, and then it'll die down and be forgotten and the maniacs will wait until a politician doesn't say "bless you" when someone sneezes to come out of the woodwork again.

    March 20, 2009 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  22. Rick

    life is hard without a teleprompter

    March 20, 2009 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  23. Sam

    If President Bush had made such a remark, I shudder to think of the bashing he would have taken. But Obama need only apologize, and the fawning over him resumes . . . .

    March 20, 2009 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  24. Dan Ploofer

    The fact that this would just roll out of his mouth disappoints me. I have a special needs child. This is really shameful. I'm sure this will just disappear. Imagine if someone made fun of a ethnic specific sporting event. It would be a big deal. This double standard is really sad.

    March 20, 2009 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  25. Doug

    Barry each n everyday , you make George Bush look better n better.

    March 20, 2009 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
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