| GEO World|
| Obama apologizes to Special Olympics head|
| Updated at: 0629 PST, Saturday, March 21, 2009|
MARCH: President Barack Obama apologized to Special Olympics chairman Timothy Shriver for making a joke about the organization during Thursday night’s show “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
Shriver, appearing today on media “Good Morning America,” said Obama’s apology was “very moving.” The president called Shriver from Air Force One before departing for Washington and said that he “didn’t want to embarrass or give anybody any more reason for pain and suffering.”
During the taping in Burbank, California, Leno asked Obama if the White House bowling alley had been replaced yet with a basketball court. Obama, who scored a 37 while bowling on the campaign trail and whose bowling skills became the butt of jokes, said that he had been practicing and recently bowled a game of 129.
“No, that’s very good, President,” Leno said mockingly.
“It was like Special Olympics, or something,” Obama replied.
Shriver today said the apology was important because “words do matter.”
“These words in some respect, can be seen as humiliating or a put-down to people with special needs,” Shriver said. “This language needs to be a teachable moment, I think, for our country.”
On the return trip to Washington last night, deputy press secretary Bill Burton told reporters that the remark “was 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.”
Shriver, the son of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, said Obama told him that “he was ready to have some of our athletes over to the White House to bowl or to play basketball, or help him improve his score.”
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is a Special Olympics coach and whose wife is Maria Shriver, Timothy Shriver’s sister, defended Obama today outside the White House.
“I know where his heart is at,” Schwarzenegger said after a meeting with the president. “He will do everything he can to help 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 hadn’t said that.’”