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Obama apologizes for Special Olympics joke

March 20, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
President Obama has issued an apology and an invitation after comparing his poor bowling skills to the Special Olympics. He wants Special Olympic athletes to visit him at the White House. He is trying to make up for a bad joke and is now practicing a new skill: bending over backward for the special-needs community.Nine-year-old Jackie Amigon is one of 200 boys and girls from the San Gabriel Valley who are getting their first taste of Special Olympics competition.

Keshon Shah is a winner too.

"Every stride [Keshon] makes is like, Wow! It's like looking forward to something every day," said Keshon's mother Sejal.

While they hold their heads high, President Barack Obama is bowing his head in embarrassment. Appearing on "The Tonight Show," he disparaged the disabled athletes while trying to poke fun at himself.

"I bowled a 129. It was like Special Olympics or something," Obama said on the show Thursday night.

Even before the show aired, the president was on the phone. Tim Shriver, Special Olympics chairman, told Good Morning America about the call.

"He apologized in a way that was very moving," said Shriver. "He expressed that he did not intend to humiliate this population, embarrass or give anyone anymore reason for pain or suffering."

Some say the president's comment suggests a need for more education Special Olympics athletes can and do excel.

As for Keshon's Mother, the remark did not offend her.

"I wouldn't take it that way," said Shah. "I just feel that they have special needs and the Special Olympics are a wonderful dream for each and every parent. I wouldn't take it as a bad remark."

Special Olympics officials stress the positive.

"Empowerment, joy of competition, being around other athletes," said Eloise Crawford, Special Olympics.

Jackie Amigon gets all that -- and a blue ribbon.

The Special Olympics organization hopes the spirit of support catches on. While the president makes amends, they say they could use more funds and more volunteers in these times of need.