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Understanding Obama’s Special Olympics joke

March 28, 2009
By Lauren LeFebvre

Who hasn't heard about President Barack Obama's Special Olympics comment on the Tonight Show?

For those who haven't, in a nutshell, the president likened his bad bowling to watching an event at the Special Olympics? At least that's the way I took it. It may have been his low score, but nonetheless, you see where I'm going with this, right?

I'm never awake to see the Tonight Show, but when I saw the clip on the morning news, I almost died. Here's the guy that I personally have put all my hope in to bring this country out of the depths of crud, which greed and selfishness have gotten us into, making a flippant remark like that.

I buried my face in my hands and silently screamed "Why, Barack, why?"

I'm convinced the comment was not meant to be a put-down of Special Olympic athletes. Who in their right mind would do that? Face it, a politician is a politician is a politician. Even if you were some kind of closed-minded jerk, you'd never make a comment like that publically-it's a career killer. Was it a good comment to make? Absolutely not. But I really, really needed to find some kind of silver lining here. The president said it. He laughed. Jay Leno laughed. The audience laughed. I was having an awfully hard time finding a silver lining so far.

I didn't laugh. Why? I didn't laugh because I was stunned. Why was I stunned? My answer might not be the same as yours. Yours may be something like "Making fun of 'handicapped' people is wrong-those poor people can't help being that way. My answer is "Why is it assumed that people with disabilities can't do things as well as nondisabled people, or that people with disabilities are trying to do everything as well as nondisabled people? And, if that were true, "Why is it funny?"

I'm going to give you some outlandish examples but just hang in there with me.

Stephen Hawking. The man is a genius and is known for his contributions to the fields of cosmology and quantum gravity, especially in the context of black holes. He has also achieved success with works of popular science, in which he discusses his own theories and cosmology in general. I'm willing to bet he's not much of a bowler. Let's all yuck it up, shall we? Do you think Mr. Hawking cares that he hasn't focused on his bowling?

Albert Einstein.

Mr. Einstein did not speak fluently until age nine. His parents thought he may have been "mentally retarded." We now know that language delays are common in children with autism. We don't know if Einstein excelled at bowling, but we do know his contributions to modern science. Boy, that's a knee slapper, isn't it? If he had decided to devote all his time to bowling, where would we be today? I can barely sit still because I'm laughing so hard.

I stutter. I'm probably really annoying to listen to sometimes, but I'm willing to bet I have a better command of the English language than most. I like to bowl; I'm just not good at it. You can laugh at my bowling ability and I'll laugh at those of you who say "ain't," "so don't I," "supposibly," "I could care less," and a whole host of annoying things I hear people say all the time. You can work at using the English language correctly and I can work on my bowling.

Oh, what to do about President Obama's comment? I have no idea. Continue to educate an unreceptive public about what disabilities are and are not?

I guess I should thank the president for bringing disabilities into the spotlight. I hope all people with disabilities and disability advocates and disability-related organizations take this opportunity, and however it was given to us, use it to our advantage.

In other words - "run" with it! (Lighten up people, I meant it as a joke!) Have you heard the one about the door-to-door Bible salesman who stuttered? It's really funny. Ask me sometime, I'll tell you and then we can both laugh.



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