Obama apologizes for Special Olympics comment on The Tonight Show

Saturday, March 21, 2009

In an appearance on the The Tonight Show with Jay Leno Thursday night, United States President Barack Obama told host, Jay Leno, that he had bowled at the White House bowling alley and scored a 129.

US President Barack Obama

"It was like the Special Olympics or something," the President said.

The Special Olympics is an international organization that promotes self-confidence and social skills for people with intellectual disabilities. It organizes the Special Olympics World Games which is recognized by the International Olympic Committee and is similar to the Paralympic Games which are for people with physical disabilities.

Even before the taped show was aired, Barack Obama called the chairman of the Special Olympics to apologize. He phoned Timothy Shriver from Air Force One on the way back to Washington, D.C.. Tim Shriver is also the son of Eunice Kennedy Shriver who founded the Special Olympics.

"He expressed his disappointment, and he apologized in a way that was very moving. He expressed that he did not intend to humiliate this population," Shriver said on Friday in an interview on Good Morning America.

"Words hurt, words do matter," Shriver added. "People with special needs are great athletes and productive citizens."

"The President made an offhand remark making fun of his own bowling that was in no way intended to disparage the Special Olympics," White House deputy press secretary, Bill Burton, said. "He thinks that the Special Olympics are a wonderful program that gives an opportunity to shine to people with disabilities from around the world."

Meanwhile, Kolan McConiughey, a top Special Olympics bowler told the Associated Press that he doesn't think Obama bowls like a Special Olympian.

"He bowled a 129. I bowl a 300. I could beat that score easily," McConiughey said. McConiughey has five perfect 300 games on his track record as a bowler and averages a score of 212.

"I'd tell him to get a new bowling ball, new shoes and bring him down to the lane," said McConiughey, offering bowling advice to the President. "Keep his body straight, his arm straight and keep his steps straight. He has to practice every single day."

Maria Shriver, sister of Tim Shriver, said the President's comment "hurts millions of people throughout the world."

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is married to Maria Shriver, said, "He [Obama] loves Special Olympics, and he would do everything he can to help Special Olympics."

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters, "I know that the President believes that the Special Olympics are a triumph of the human spirit, and I think he understands that they deserve a lot better than — than the thoughtless joke that he made last night. And he apologizes for that."


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