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. David

    Goes to show the incredible arrogance of this administration. I am not surprised the media is glossing this over. Imagine if Bush said such a thing! They would be screaming for his head! Shame on Obama and shame on the media!

    March 20, 2009 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  2. denise

    Imagine if a Republican had made a joke about the Special Olympics? It would be first page news in every city. Democrats would be demanding an apology and a resignation. Hypocrites.

    March 20, 2009 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  3. Jon

    Give me a break. Look, I make no bones about the fact that I'm a conservative and not only do I dislike Obama but I despise his policies. But let me tell you this, as the father of a four year old autistic girl, his "joke" about the special olympics only proves to me what most of already know, that in private Barack Obama is a mean-spirited, elitist, pig of an excuse for a human being. Some time ago, Karl Rove of all people, said he had come to know Barack Obama and that although he was intelligent and well-spoken he was "the guy in the country club who stands with a mixed-drink in his hands and snickers at everyone else." Every time this guy speaks without an advisor, script, or teleprompter, he proves this point.

    He would not have joked about this if it weren't in his thought process. That disabled or "retarded" children are "goofy" and "fun to laugh at". Using the logic I've been reading this morning, that he was "self-deprecating" and "just making fun of himself" by comparing his skills to disabled children, would it be alright for me to say I'm good at basketball "just like a bunch of black guys"?

    Face it, for a certain segment of the population Barack Obama could come out and say "I hate rednecks, jews, and homos" and liberals would find a perfectly logical explanation for it.

    March 20, 2009 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  4. Denise in MD

    As an Obama supporter, I'm very disappointed. I understand he was trying to be self-effacing, but it shouldn't have come at the expense of someone else. At least he recognizes his error and because he's so popular people are willing to forgive him. But I am sure that if it was Bush who said this, there'd be much more outrage.

    March 20, 2009 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  5. digger

    Atta boy obama, stick your foot in your mouth just like biden. You make a good pair.

    March 20, 2009 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  6. chuck tulsa

    There was a lot of complaining in conservative corners about the President going on Jay Leno, like the last eight years of Duyba did not degrade the Presidency in anyway, however, the President showed a great personnel side to me and I think he connected with the people that watched the show.

    Talking about his family and experiences brought the humanity out of the man and painted a picture to me of a human being in the office and not a talking point.

    Saying something positive about the president is not the best way to get posted at CNN, however.

    March 20, 2009 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  7. Andrea Olufson

    I wasn't very impressed with the president's Jay Leno show. He had the nerve to make a wisecrack about his bowling saying it was more like SPECIAL OLYMPICS. I hope none of my son's friends understood that their president was making fun of their Special Olympic games. Everyone connected with Special Olympics deserves an appology from the president. My son has participated in Special Olympics since he was 10 years old. He participates in roller skating...artistic skate and speed skating. He also participated in bowling. I am very offended by the president's remark.

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

    I have something for invention convention now!!! A pocket teleprompter, so they can feed every word to the talking head!!

    March 20, 2009 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  9. Coby

    I can't believe that our president would say something like this. I campaigned for him, day in and day out, for weeks because I thought he was a new kind of politician. Someone who wouldn't stoop to poking fun at our differently abled brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, friends and lovers. I stayed up late to watch the president appear on Leno, and I haven't been able to stop crying since. I just feel betrayed.

    March 20, 2009 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  10. B.H.

    Come on. Give me a break. This kind of stuff gets blown way out of proportion. Every little comment someone makes offends someone else. GET OVER IT! Worry about stuff that matters. The liberals are ruining the world...

    March 20, 2009 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  11. Really?

    Bet he'll get off easy in the media for this.

    A cheerleader was elected as the President, what should anyone expect. Glad he is making jokes about the special olympics and spending time on his ncaa tournament picks... what is next?

    March 20, 2009 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  12. Matt (PA)

    Let me guess Liberals, Obama is SO smart, that his comment can only be taken as a slip of the tongue and a mistake. But of course, if Bush were to have made a comment he would have been completely destroyed by all of you and the media as a MORON for using the same exact comment!!!

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

    Unbelievable. And you acting like a president is like the special olympics too, in fact, I'd rather have someone from the special olympics running the country than you.

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

    Oops! His bad....

    March 20, 2009 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  15. NOBLE

    Give the president a break.
    Leave him to fix this mess created over the last eight years.
    Every smart American knows he is a decent man and doesnt look down on any particular group of people.

    March 20, 2009 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  16. Vic of New York

    Quite honestly, I thought the show was terrific. It was a wonderful opportunity for many Americans to see their leader as a regular guy with regular concerns who's going to get the job done. Bravo!

    What a respit from that neo-gay Cantor, Brain-Dead Bush, and Pshychopath Cheeney!

    March 20, 2009 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  17. shi_Light

    American is loosing it's natural sense of humor and joy. Now every word you say is held against you even if you're trying to make a joke about yourself. I remember when America was a nice place to live.

    Now it is so congested. You can't walk comfortably up and down store aisles. When driving the highways it seems as if you are on the Indianapolis Speedway. You don't know what your are eating. The food and other supplies have been reduced in size yet you pay the same price or a higher price for a lesser amount of the same products.

    Once you could buy a half gallon of ice cream now it is 1 3/4th quarter for the same price more. This seems to be stealing to me.Once there were only a few companies doing it now just about all companies are doing that same thing. A roll of tissue paper is so small soon it will disappear. Some of the rolls of tissue the company should be ashame to have their name on the brand There ought to be a law against these practices. How can state and city govenments, banks, car companies, Wall Street and just about every company be loosing money when there product is higher.We are paying higher taxes and the prices of goods and services are to the roof. How can this be possible be? Where is the money???? I would like to know where is the money is hiding?

    Don't let me for get all the newspapers in the Chicagoland area are getting to be the sizes of a magazine. but the price is getting higher. Pkease stop, stop , stop all of this madness.

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

    Hard to beleive he could say something like that. I happen to like and support the President. I hope he offers his own apology, not just his spokesman apologizing for him. I wonder if the spokesman talked to him before he said, "the President thinks the Special Olympics are good." Was he reading cliff notes, has he talked to the President before about this subject. Anyway, a pretty big gaffe if you ask me.

    March 20, 2009 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  19. Marshall

    Proud Leader of the Free World!?

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

    The point isn't that he offended the Special Olympics organization, its that likening his bowling skills to that of a Special Olympian disparages people with disabilities. In their haste to do damage control the WH press corp seems to have forgotten that the organization and the events it sponsors are about celebrating the triumphs of wonderful, joy giving, big hearted people who just happen to have a variety of disabilities.

    March 20, 2009 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  21. sonny c.

    The One is human !!

    March 20, 2009 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  22. dallas gal

    human just like everyone else.

    i've said those exact words before.

    anyone who complains on here should take a moment to remember if they ever used the word retarded, dumb etc to explain a situation.

    March 20, 2009 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  23. So Sad

    He was making fun of himself. No big deal.

    March 20, 2009 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  24. Chad

    God forbid a Republican say that; he'd be tarred, feathered and have people calling for his resignation for his mean-spirited and condescending remarks, but Obama says it and it's a gaffe. It’s nice to see that the hypocrisy of the left and the media truly knows no bounds.

    March 20, 2009 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  25. jennifer

    What does no experience equal??? a trillion dollars in money out of nowhere. How can they justify the government borrowing a trillion from the government?!?!? I wish I could loan myself money. Obama get off Leno and get a clue!!!

    March 20, 2009 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
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