(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.
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.”
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.
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