I don’t do well with people who make fun of the mentally and physically disabled. Beyond the fact that it is just plain cruel, I know the toll that these prejudices take on their victims.
My little sister, Anna, was born with a rare liver disease that, among other physical side effects, makes her significantly smaller than other children her age. I grew up seeing how much it hurt her to be taunted by her classmates and how badly she wanted to be “just like everyone else.”
Anna’s physical abilities have not limited the things she has been able to accomplish in her 14 years. She is a member of the high school marching band, despite being at least a foot shorter than all the other members. Since joining the band, I’ve watched her make friendships with so many people who now see her just like I do: as a little girl with a shockingly huge personality.
What band has done for my sister, the Special Olympics have done for millions of other people who are living life as what society deems “disabled.” On top of that, they’re good at what they do! Marathon runner and former Special Olympics athlete Billy Quick once said,“You might be able to out-read me, but I can out-run you!”
To most people, making fun of Special Olympians would seem cruel. Obviously, President Barack Obama is not one of those people.
During his March 19, 2009 appearance on NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” President Barack Obama joked that his bowling skills were only good in the Special Olympics. Leno brought up Obama’s bowling skills by asking if the White House alley had been “burned and closed down.” This stemmed from Obama’s bowling a 37 while on the campaign trail, in an effort to connect with blue collar voters.
The New York Times published the entire transcript of the broadcast.
MR. OBAMA: No, no. I have been practicing all –- (laughter.)
MR. LENO: Really? Really?
MR. OBAMA: I bowled a 129. (Laughter and applause.)
MR. LENO: No, that’s very good. Yes. That’s very good, Mr. President.
MR. OBAMA: It’s like — it was like Special Olympics, or something. (Laughter.)
Before the show even aired, Obama’s team was retracting the comment. From Air Force One, Obama apologized via telephone to chairman of the Special Olympics, Tim Shriver. The statement Shriver released on behalf of the Special Olympics maintains that Obama was heartfelt in his apology, however, the hurt and insult felt by the Special Olympics community is obvious from his words.
Only an organization like the Special Olympics can manage to turn this terrible situation into an inspiring opportunity to further their cause. The final paragraph of their statement read:
“Finally, we invite the President to take the lead and consider hiring a Special Olympics athlete to work in the White House. In so doing, he could help end misperceptions about the talents and abilities of people with intellectual disabilities, and demonstrate their dignity and value to the world.”
Not that this blunder isn’t news worthy enough, but many prominent figures are now asking an even more important question: why is the President of the United States appearing on late night talk shows to begin with?
President Obama defended his appearance saying it is not keeping him from pressing matters. He went on to say that he can do more than one thing at a time and is working on a host of issues, including climate change and health care reform. This defense has done little to quiet the criticism.
“It’s not an accident that no sitting president has ever done a show like this,” said media analyst Steve Adubato in a FOX News article.
“As much as I respect what he’s doing,” Krzyzewski said, “The economy is something that he should focus on, probably more than the brackets.”
To top it all off, President Obama is set to do his longest interview since taking office today with 60 Minutes’ correspondant Steve Kroft. The interview will air on Sunday, March 22 at 7 p.m. ET. We can only hope that our president keeps his feet firmly on the ground and out of his mouth.