I can’t lie. I howled like a big dog when I heard President Barack Obama said his bowling score of 129 was something straight out of the Special Olympics. Ms. Peacemaker saw the writing on the wall. Mr. Obama’s opponents were going to use his so called gaff as a weapon to turn his public popularity against him. I knew exactly where she was coming from and I asked her if she thought Mr. Obama was trying to make a subtle insult at the expense of the mentally retarded. I wanted to know if she saw Mr. Obama’s comment akin to what Don Imus said about the women of Rutgers University being nappy headed ho’s. Mr. Imus had malice in his heart when he made his less than flattering reference to black people. Mr. Obama had no malice in his heart as he made his own thoughtless remark. Unfortunately, there are people who would swear up and down that there was no difference between the two.
Nevertheless, I laughed. You see, I had a retarded sister who participated in the bowling event at the Special Olympics. Something like forty years ago the family was loaded into the wagon and we drove out to Florissant Valley Community College to see my sister throw nothing but gutter balls in tryouts. She cleaned gutters better than a street sweeper on a Sunday during the peak of prohibition. And most of the other bowlers were no better. It looked less like a bowling tournament and more like a challenge not to knock down any pins. At that time, I don’t think my sister could bowl a 129 if she bowled for a week and you added up her scores into one final number.
But the last thing my sister was looking for was to win. Sister was happy just to be out there with her peers and cheered by her family and everyone else in the place when she went up to throw her ball away. At the time, people like my sister didn’t have the social network that many enjoy now.
The Special Olympics is an organization created to help people with intellectual disabilities develop self confidence and social skills through personal accomplishment. Modeled after its more popular namesake, the Olympic Games., the Special Olympics World Games are conducted every two years, alternating between summer and winter themes. The people who participate in these games develop improved physical fitness and motor skills and a more positive image of self. They grow socially through their competitions and in the end we are all better for it.
After the competition sis got the bowling bug, or perhaps more appropriately the gutter ball bug. Mom found a local league that was developed specifically for the mentally impaired and sis joined. For years we took my sister there on a weekly basis to fellowship. She got her own bowling ball, shoes, and bag. When she managed to knock down a pin people clapped and gave her support. Eventually, her gutter ball throwing skill diminished and she actually became a bowler. But if memory serves correctly, sister’s score never broke the century mark. The bowling ball she used barely outweighed a bag of sugar and would have had trouble delivering a strike if it was shot out of a canon with military precision. And a spare was even less likely. Sis was most content with her 80s or 90s high scores.
When Mr. Obama talked about Special Olympic bowlers, he had my sister in his sites. I wouldn’t know what my sister would do if she bowled a 129 in a single game. That’s not true. I know exactly what she would do. She would have clapped her hands and grinned her biggest grin. She would return to the pit and everybody would congratulate her on a job well done. It’s the same exact thing they do when she knocked down a single pin. Some of those mentally retarded bowlers were pretty sharp bowling in the upper hundreds and even an occasional two hundred. And for the most part, they were given the same props.
Mr. Obama would probably fit in well with the Special Olympic bowlers. They would clap for him despite his comment or his political title or affiliation. He says that he bowls like someone from the Special Olympics. That’s funny. But on the flipside, I can imagine my sister saying she bowls like the President of the United States. And to some of those mentally impaired bowlers, that’s a real insult.