WASHINGTON (CNN) – Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said she was "shocked" to hear President Obama's offhand comment referring to the Special Olympics in an appearance on the Tonight Show on Thursday night.
"This was a degrading remark about our world's most precious and unique people, coming from the most powerful position in the world," Palin said in a statement released Friday. "These athletes overcome more challenges, discrimination and adversity than most of us ever will. By the way, these athletes can outperform many of us and we should be proud of them. I hope President Obama's comments do not reflect how he truly feels about the special needs community."
Palin's son, Trig, has Down Syndrome.
California First Lady Maria Shriver, whose mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the Special Olympics, said she doesn't think Obama meant to offend anyone, but that this incident shows that "there is still much work to be done." Shriver's brother, Tim, is the current chairman of the organization.
"Often times we don't realize that when we laugh at comments like this it hurts millions of people throughout the world," Shriver said in a statement. "People with special needs are great athletes and productive citizens, and I look forward to working with the President to knock down myths and stereotypes about this community."
But Shriver's husband, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, came to Obama's defense and said everyone makes mistakes.
"I know where his heart is at," Schwarzenegger said. "He loves Special Olympics and he will do everything he can to help the Special Olympics. And every one of us sometimes makes a mistake by, something comes out of your mouth and you say oops, I wish I wouldn't have said that."