President Obama Jokes About Being a Bad Bowler: ‘It’s Like the Special Olympics’*

By MichaelJames

Mar 19, 2009 8:56pm

The first appearance by a sitting president on "The Tonight Show" may well end up being the last.

President Obama, in his taping with Jay Leno Thursday afternoon, attempted to yuk it up with the funnyman, and ended up insulting the disabled.

Towards the end of his approximately 40-minute appearance, the president talked about how he’s gotten better at bowling and has been practicing in the White House bowling alley.

He bowled a 129, the president said.

"That’s very good, Mr. President," Leno said sarcastically.

It’s "like the Special Olympics or something," the president said.

When asked about the remark, the White House said the president did not intend to offend.

"The president made an off-hand 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 the Special Olympics is a wonderful program that gives an opportunity for people with disabilities from around the world."

On Good Morning America Friday morning, Tim Shriver — chairman of the Special Olympics — said that President Obama called him from Air Force One the previous night.

"He expressed his disappointment and he apologized," Shriver said. "He expressed that he did not intend to humiliate this population, certainly didn’t want to embarrass or give anybody any more reason for pain or just suffering I would say. He was very sincere, expressed an interest and an openness in being more engaged in the movement, and said he was a fan of the movement and I think importantly he said he was ready to have some of our athletes over to the White House to bowl or play basketball or help him improve his score."

Shriver called it "important to see that words hurt, and words do matter and these words can in some way be seen as humiliating or put down to people with special needs do cause pain and they do result in stereotypes, and they do result in behavior that’s neglectful and almost oppressive moment of people with special needs."

The son of Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy pointed out that in Detroit there’s a Special Olympian who has bowled three perfect games.

"This kind of language needs to be a teachable moment for our country, I think," Shriver said. I would help every parent that’s at home this morning watching this show could turn to their children and say, ‘this is a chance for us to recognize that when we talk about Special Olympics, when we talk about people with special needs, let’s make sure we talk about it in an affirming way."

Facing tough questions about the performance of his Treasury Secretary, $165 million in bonuses for AIG officials and anticipating a fight over his $3.55 trillion budget, the president has not had a particularly good week, and it’s unlikely this will help matters.

- jpt

* This post has been updated with Shriver’s comments.

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