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Special Olympics to Obama: “Words Hurt”

March 20 2009 | by

Special Olympics chairman Tim Shriver released a statement regarding President Obama’s comment on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, where Obama said his recently low bowling score was akin to “Special Olympics or something.” The president then called Shriver to apologize.

According to the statement, President Obama apologized to Shriver in a “sincere and heartfelt way,” saying “he did not intend to humiliate Special Olympics athletes or people with intellectual disabilities.” Still, Shriver remarked that “words hurt” and that “using ‘Special Olympics’ in a negative or derogatory context can be a humiliating put-down to people with special needs.”

Shriver, whose mother, Eunice Kennedy of the Kennedy Family, founded the organization 40 years ago, went on to call the experience a “teachable moment for our country” and encouraged “open conversation and dialogue about how stereotypes can cause pain.” Shriver also highlighted the Special Olympics’ upcoming ‘Spread the Word to End the Word’ campaign, a youth-led national awareness effort to end the use of the word “retard”, or the “R-word”, when referring to people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Furor over the use of the “R-word” erupted after its use in a movie, Tropic Thunder, directed by Ben Stiller.

Finally, Shriver invited Obama to consider hiring a Special Olympics athlete to work in the White House. Earlier this month, Vice President Joe Biden hired Kareem Dale, who is partly blind, as Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy. Biden made the announcement last month at the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Boise, Idaho.

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