Sargent Shriver Peace Institute - 1998 Special Olympics Speech (2022)

On July 20, 1968, just 30 years ago, The Special Olympics’ “Flame Of Hope” was ignited for the very first time at our World Games. Those first Games were held in Chicago where Eunice and I had lived and where our first children were born. Chicago had been our home.

One thousand young men and women with mental retardation from 26 states and Canada took part in that competition staged in the ways and procedures of traditional Olympics. Twelve of those Special Olympics athletes were from North Carolina.

Chicago was the place; Mayor Richard J. Daley of that city was the host. The President of the Chicago Park District gave us Soldier Field, free-of-charge, but instead of the normal attendance at big events there, roughly 103,000 people, we had only 130 spectators.

We did have John Glenn, Rafer Johnson, and Paul Hornug to cheer the athletes on. But we had a new product, and Mayor Daley, prescient politician that he was, said to my wife, Eunice, as they watched the competitions:-- “Eunice, the World will never be the same after these Games”.

Everyone in those days, except my wife, thought people with mental retardation could not achieve much of anything. No persons with mental retardation had every competed in sports. Our athletes were pioneers! They were the first generation of Special Olympic Heroes.

But how about this:--

Today, the number of Special Olympic athletes participating in our programs around the world is 1,000 times that original number.

North Carolina will host 6,500, maybe 7,000 Special Olympics Athletes from around the world next year in the largest, most revolutionary sporting event the state has ever seen.

Revolutionary because Special Olympics turns the world upside down! We don’t have the wealthiest, the most beautiful, the sexiest people in the world. We have the bottom of the barrel! But our athletes with I.Q.’s from 75 downward to 50—yes 50, change us all. Instead of Phi Beta Kappa Keys, Special Olympics provides the key which opens our eyes and hearts and brains to the capabilities and the humanity of all persons, including even those with mental retardation.

Even I who have the greatest faith in my wife, Eunice’s vision, ability, and tenacity, could not have imagined the enormous miracle she set in motion when she founded Special Olympics. And, my friends, it is a miracle, a miracle with a universal impact:

We now operate in 163 countries. More than one million athletes participate. In just 30 years we have become the largest private, sports philanthropy in the world. We continue to grow and grow and grow. By the year 2001, the first year of the next century, Special Olympics will probably have 2,000,000 athletes.

We have had to change the organizational structure of our worldwide enterprise. For example, we have just created Special Olympics Europe-Eurasia, an entity with its own full-time staff members and its own Board of Advisers. We have 50 European- Eurasian nations in that one entity. Just for the record, those 50 European nations have never before been united in any enterprise. All of those countries with their famous and infamous leaders: Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Attila the Hun, Hitler, Stalin, the Kaisers of Germany, the Tsars of Russia, killed more people than the total population of the United States today. Now they are all united in the Special Olympics Movement. No military or political leader has ever accomplished that miracle.

We are not only changing the lives of the Special Olympics athletes, we are altering the lives, perceptions and world views of everyone around them.

To whole populations, across North America, Latin America, Asia, Africa, Europe, who for centuries have been told, “You are worthless”, “You cannot achieve”, “You are a loser”, we are saying, “You are valued!”,”You can achieve!” and “You are a winner!”.

You need only hear from a few Special Olympic Athletes and their family members to grasp the Movement’s ability to change lives.

Edward Hunnicutt, who participates in our urban program in Dallas, Texas says: “I was headed down the wrong path, but now I am into a lot of great things, and my jump shot gets better all the time.”

Brazilian athlete, Emilia de Souza Camargo says simply: “Special Olympics has changed my life. All of the other girls say hello to me now and ask me to play with them. I love Special Olympics because it has helped me become a part of everyone else’s world”. And that is what the Special Olympics miracle is about.

It is part of this miracle, that respected leaders from so many disparate nations around the world recognize and hail the life-affirming work of Special Olympics.

From Pope John Paul II to Prince Charles, from Czech President Vaclav Havel to President Salfaro of Italy, to the Union of South Africa, to the political leaders of the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong-Kong, to all the countries of South Asia, South America, and the huge populations of China, India, Indonesia, and Russia Special Olympics is officially approved.

There are Special Olympic Programs in the Middle East, in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. More and more, we are touching the lives of people who have no yet had access to the myriad of benefits Special Olympics offers.

We are bypassing the barriers of race, gender, religion and nationality. Together we are doing no less than creating a new global reality. But, and there is always a “but”, while Special Olympics currently reaches more than one million athletes, there are 175 million people around the world with mental retardation.

Each one of the 175 million, rich and poor, young and old, deserves a chance at a more meaningful, fulfilling and joyful life. Each one of the 175 million deserves Special Olympics. To reach out to these 175 million is our continuing mission and one which our present and future corporate sponsors play a vital role in.

Even heroes, after all, need heroes. Our Movement’s list of Corporate heroes reads like a list of some of the world’s most successful and prestigious companies. You can see their names proudly waving on banners at our World Games and other events. Coca-Cola, which along with Kodak, is founding sponsor of the Movement, has been a Special Olympics Worldwide sponsor for 30 years.

Procter and Gamble, a marketing partner for almost 20 years has helped educate millions of consumers about Special Olympics while raising millions of dollars through a yearly coupon-mailing promotion. Shopko has raised over a million dollars in one day through its Golf Tournament which benefits Special Olympics Programs in all states where Shopko operates.

These valuable corporate sponsorships and others clearly help Special Olympics continue to serve our athletes. But the corporations also benefit greatly.

Simply put, corporate sponsorship of Special Olympics is just good business. In a 1995 Gallop Poll on Special Olympics, 95% of those surveyed responded affirmatively in the category of name recognition. The Movement has been voted “most credible charity”, “most favored charity” and “top charity” in numerous polls conducted around the country. And, our sponsors report a wide range of bottom line benefits, from increased product sales, to strengthened customer and brand loyalty. And the list goes on. Earl Leonard, Senior Vice President for Coke and a member of our Board of Directors, says that being a premier sponsor for the Movement has, “inspired his employees, enthused his bottlers and greatly added to the company’s reputation among its customers”.

The advantages to a Special Olympics sponsorship hold true year in and year out, which is why we have had such long standing relationships, but the benefits are particularly dramatic when you look at our World Game sponsors. Indeed, a 1995 Special Olympics commemorative Coke can series of 14.4 million units sold out in 3 weeks prior to the 1995 Special Olympics World Summer Games in New Haven, Connecticut.

GMC truck dealers, also a Special Olympics sponsor in New Haven, recorded a 40% increase in sales during the month of the World Summer Games.

This is not surprising. If you have ever been to our World Summer Games, I do not need to tell you what a huge and awe-inspiring global event it is. But just to give the rest of you a bit of an idea: The 1995 World Summer Games in New Haven required 40,000 volunteers, 8.65 acres of tents, 200,000 square feet of warehouse space, 20,000 hours of bus time to and from events, a Cessna airlift and when it was over 40,000 40-gallon garbage to clean up. And, unlike with the Olympic Games taking place in Nagano, Japan, where the majority of athletes must walk away without a medal, every one of our athletes comes away jubilant winner!

Now, if you wouldn’t mind, indulge me a short quiz. What is the North Carolina state motto? Don’t know? Let me help you. It’s “esse quam videri” or “to be rather than to seem”. To me that means not simply appearing to care, but actually caring. That is the wonderful North Carolina quality you demonstrate to your employees through a sponsorship with Special Olympics.

Ask the former President of Otis Elevator Company, who took the position of President of Special Olympics Europe-Eurasia when he retired from Otis last year. What started as a corporate sponsorship with Otis has become a worldwide partnership that is the company’s largest morale and job satisfaction builder. This kind of partnership breaks down barriers within a company, as hierarchy disappears and unknown leaders come to the surface.

Today, more than 4,500 Otis employees around the world comprise a dedicated volunteer force for Special Olympics. Still, some people may continue to wonder: Why should we expend the time, funds and energy for people with mental retardation? Why help them over anyone else? What is so special about Special Olympics?

I can only tell you what Eunice and I have learned over our many years working with Special Olympics athletes: They teach us compassion, for they love everyone. They teach us delight, for they take joy in holding our hand or just being with us. They teach us determination, because they never give up- as athletes or as people. They teach us serenity, because they embody a happiness which comes from the total absence of envy or hatred.

In truth, the reason to reach our is so simple: What we receive from Special Olympics athletes is astronomically greater than what we give!

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