Statements from Special Olympics in response to President Obama's remarks on the Tonight Show

March 20, 2009 1:39:50 PM PDT
Below are statements from the Special Olympics and Special Olympics Chairman Timothy ShriverSpecial Olympics statement

In response to President Obama's reference to Special Olympics during his appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno on March 19, 2009, Special Olympics Texas regrets that such comments and references to people with intellectual disabilities are still a part of everyday conversation. Regardless of how certain phrases are intended, it does not diminish the negative impact that words can have and the pain they can inflict.

The Special Olympics movement is about dignity, self confidence, ability and respect. We have more than 32,000 athletes in Texas who not only exemplify those qualities and many more, but are also outstanding and accomplished athletes. We would like to invite the President, as well as the public, to attend an upcoming Special Olympics Texas event and witness our athletes' abilities and "can do" attitudes. Through this kind of involvement, people's perceptions of those with intellectual disabilities can begin to be changed, hopefully leading toward more accepting and inclusive communities for all.


Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver's statement

President Obama called last night and expressed his regret and he apologized. He said that he did not intend to humiliate Special Olympics athletes or people with intellectual disabilities. He was sincere and heartfelt, and said that he is a fan of our movement and is ready to work with our athletes to make the United States a more accepting and welcoming country for all people with special needs.

Words hurt and words matter. Words can cause pain and result in stereotypes that are unfair and damaging to people with intellectual disabilities. And using Special Olympics in a negative or derogatory context can be a humiliating put-down to people with special needs. .

This is a teachable moment for our country. We are asking young people, parents and leaders from all walks of life to engage in conversation and help dispel negative caricatures about people with intellectual disabilities. We believe that it s only through open conversation and dialogue about how stereotypes can cause pain that we can begin to work together to create communities of acceptance and inclusion for all.

Special Olympics is not a program, but a worldwide movement operating 30,000 events a year in more than 180 countries. Every one of them is a chance for people of all ages to get involved, to think differently about attitudes and perceptions they may have about people with intellectual disabilities, and to make a difference.

And so we challenge people to join our Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, a youth-led national awareness effort that will launch on March 31, where we are asking people to pledge their respect for people with special needs. We re asking people to sign our R-word pledge, to join in our Unified Sports programs, to volunteer, and to be fans of our athletes and our movement. .

Additionally, we challenge policy leaders at all levels to commit to improving the support and resources for people with intellectual disabilities in areas such as healthcare, education, housing and recreation.

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.