March 20th, 2009
10:48 AM ET
14 years ago

Obama apologizes for Special Olympics comment

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="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. Sir Lord

    I think that we're making a mountain out of a mole hill because the remark came through without any intended, harmful consequences. It appears that our country can't wait to call our President on any minor situation that may befall him. This has become nothing short of mere jealousy with high hopes for him to fail as a president. Let's get on with it and focus on other far-more pertinent issues that may include, and not limited to, of course, the economy, healthcare, Iraq, and the elephant in the room: Our National Debt, compliments of our republican friends for the past thirty years!

    March 20, 2009 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  2. Ken, Pisgah Forest NC

    Thanks for telling me this was a gaffe. Otherwise I never would have known. I thought it was just self-depracating humor. Have the Republicans become PC all of a sudden?

    March 20, 2009 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  3. Louise

    Why is everything taken out of context. He was speaking of himself relative to his bowling skills. I'm begining to understand why the former president and his admin had so little to say. the media is constantly looking for something to critique. I guess it keeps them in business though.

    March 20, 2009 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  4. barack is still just b.o.

    Love how the dimocrats on here try to defend his remark.

    1 He's only human
    2 Say something about what republicans did
    3 Say let the first person who never said anything bad throw the first stone
    4 He was just joking
    5 I'm not offended.
    6 What about all the remarks GWB made
    etc. etc. etc..

    Yet these are the same people who would crucify a republican for making a lessor remark.

    OK we know your lips are glued to obama's butt, but there really is no excuse for what he said other than he should not leave home without his teleprompter. Just admit that he isn't really all you think he is and move on.

    he made a major blunder. get over it already.

    March 20, 2009 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  5. Robin

    I thought Obama was supposed to be "better". Guess not.

    March 20, 2009 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  6. Russ

    i hate obama and i think you guys are wayyyyyy too sensitive. Arguing on the internet is like the special olympics.........

    nuff said

    March 20, 2009 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  7. Bob Archer

    My brother is in a wheelchair and he laughed. I think it was a mistake, but funny.

    March 20, 2009 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  8. Sea.gem

    Actually it is not telling that the "obama haters" preface their statements with "what if Bush had said it" is accurate.

    Personally, I feel there is too much fake PC, fake vicitm BS.Las time there was a special alympian gaffe that the media went crazy about the Special Olympina undrstood the impetus and reaoning and though the joke was funny....
    ...what is funnier is this Pres is showing how useless he is without a teleprompter and someone to feed him quotes frompast presidents...

    March 20, 2009 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  9. IndyVoter

    The reason that there is a SPECIAL OLYMPICS is because the Olympians are special in that they are impaired or disabled in some way and are unable to compete in the world Olympics with other athletes. I think Pres. Obama's point was to say that he is impaired or disabled in some way as it pertains to the sport of bowling. Though technically, I don't think there is anything wrong with his comment. It probably wasn't a good choice of words since it could possibly be taken out of context and offend some people.

    March 20, 2009 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  10. mrsaint

    WoW! it is nice to read so many people out there on their soap boxes today...

    thanks cnn for allowing me to kill my day at work by reading what all these whiners have to say about obama. good or bad still funny read.

    March 20, 2009 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  11. Kris Woodstock

    Look, forgot the P.C. way of looking at it and lets just be realistic for once.

    Special Olympic bowlers (or any special needs sports) on average suck, they are speical needs for god's sake. Hell while we're kicking the P.C. jargon lets just say it, they are tards. Get over the knee-jerk reaction already.

    Like you can't say fried chicken and watermelon around a black person anymore without the NAACP being notified.

    Plain and simple there are too many restrictions and watchdog groups that people cannot be themselves or convey what they feel anymore. Even when it's the truth, something it seems this country has lost a very long time ago. It's very sad.

    March 20, 2009 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  12. WBN

    Well, I made a negative comment about Obama and the liberal media, but I used a concerte example instead of emotional argument, so–once again–my comment was not posted. This happens to me all the time here. I shopuld have been posted right after the 12:42 mark; I'll try not use use real evidence next time.

    March 20, 2009 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  13. Shawn

    "Imagine if Bush said this?"

    Are you Republicans really THAT petty and delusional? I think breaking the world is a little worse.

    If ONLY this is what Bush did wrong. Imagine that! The hysterical fanatic OUTRAGE! and hyperbole over every Obama action, statement (real or imaginary) is so dumb. Aren't you freaks exhausted?

    March 20, 2009 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
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