While President Barack Obama was in Kenya on Saturday, First Lady Michelle Obama addressed the inspirational and joyful opening of the Special Olympics in Los Angeles–atoning, perhaps, for one of the president’s most notorious gaffes.
“I want you all to know that my husband and I, we are so proud of all of you, so incredibly proud of you,” the First Lady emphasized to the crowd, as she opened the 2015 World Games Saturday night. “And we love you all from the bottom of our hearts.”
On the Tonight Show with Jay Leno back in 2009, Obama joked that his bowling average of 129, “was like the Special Olympics or something,” according to MTV. Neither seemed fazed by the comment at the time–but in an attempt to pre-empt a public backlash, the President issued an apology before the show aired.
Then-Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton attempted to smooth over the comments: “[Obama] thinks that the Special Olympics are a wonderful program that gives an opportunity to shine to people with disabilities from around the world.”
Tim Shriver, current Chairman of the Special Olympics and the son of the Games’ founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, said at the time, “I think it’s important to see that words hurt and words do matter. And these words that in some respect can be seem as humiliating or a put-down to people with special needs do cause pain and they do result in stereotypes.”
In a video message played Saturday night at the opening of the games, President Obama offered a more positive message: “Where some see limitation, you see opportunity. You represent the very best of the human spirit.”
The true highlight of Friday night’’ opening ceremony was not the presence of the Hollywood or political elite, but the joyful character of both athletes and members of the audience who celebrated life, dancing and smiling with gladness.