The Special Olympics Gaffe

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on March 22, 2009

I am late to this, but it deserves at least some kind of commentary. To be sure, I don’t believe the President harbors any kind of particular contempt for the Special Olympics and for the people who participate in it, but his comment nevertheless was appalling. And it is refreshing to see that he is being taken to task for it:

After comparing his bowling to the Special Olympics on “The Tonight Show” Thursday, President Obama called Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver to apologize before the program even aired.”He expressed his disappointment and he apologized, in a way that was very moving,” Shriver said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “It’s important to see that words hurt, and words do matter. And these words that in some respect can be seen as humiliating or a put-down of people with special needs do cause pain, and they do result in stereotypes.”

Obama told Shriver he wants to have some Special Olympics competitors over to the White House for basketball or bowling.

Shriver is the son of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, President Kennedy’s sister.

The president had been making an attempt at self-deprecating humor in his appearance on Jay Leno’s show by saying that a recent 129 he scored in the White House bowling alley had been “like Special Olympics, or something.”

It turns out that comparing the President’s bowling skills to those of Special Olympians is an insult to Special Olympians:

The top bowler for the Special Olympics looks forward to meeting President Barack Obama in an alley.”He bowled a 129. I bowl a 300. I could beat that score easily,” Michigan’s Kolan McConiughey (KO-lahn Mc-KAHNA-he) told The Associated Press in an interview Friday.

I’m sure that he can and I hope that he does. Publicly and with great fanfare. In the meantime, can we stop pretending that this President is a stranger to gaffes?

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