Obama’s Special Olympics Gaffe
Unless you’ve been living on the moon, you know by now about President Obama’s unfortunate Special Olympics comment made on The Tonight Show. Obama was talking about his weak performance on the White House bowling lanes and said that it was “like the Special Olympics.” The presidential spin machine went into overdrive immediately, knowing that what would be a forgettable flub from anyone else instantly becomes national news when it comes from the mouth of the Most Powerful Man, etc. While we know that the president was not trying to be derogatory or cruel to people challenged by mental or physical conditions, the incident serves as a reminder of how easy it is to hurt such men, women and children with thoughtless words.
This issue hits home with us because Eva’s daughter, Marissa, was born with hemiparesis, weakness on one side of the body. She was teased about it from a very young age, and though she has been extremely courageous in dealing with this condition and has grown into a proud and lovely young woman, it has still been hard for her and her parents to deal with the comments, the looks and the self-consciousness that comes with it. We’ve touched on this question before, but it bears asking again: why is it so hard for us to find beauty in those who are different from the mainstream?
Of course, the irony is that we’re all different in some way. No one is perfect. Everyone has a blemish, a tic, a scar, a stutter—something that makes them less than ideal. So why has the Special Olympics, one of the most admirable organizations in the world for the way in which it helps people with intellectual disabilities compete in sports, get physically fit and bolster their self-esteem, become synonymous with lack of coordination? For that matter, why is it OK to ask someone who fails to see something obvious, “Are you blind?” when millions suffer from visual impairment?
Our view is this: we all deserve to be recognized and respected for the beauty within—the beauty of our actions. No matter what a person’s physical or mental condition, every one walking this earth has something about them that’s beautiful, admirable and unique. That deserves recognition, not idle, even unintentional scorn. Some people may accuse us of making a mountain out of a molehill, but the fact that Barack Obama or anyone else can even casually (and later, regretably) toss off a comment about the Special Olympics, AIDS, deafness or any other condition tells us that deep down, we still only value physical and psychological perfection…or at least the appearance of it. We are still shallow. We still venerate celebrities who look flawless while exhibiting emotional problems and snicker at physically challenged individuals who exhibit compassion and kindness that humbles the rest of us. If we’re ever to truly mature as people, that’s something that’s got to change. And it’s something we’re going to continue to call out.
Debi & Eva