Missouri fair bans mask-wearing clown who mocked Obama - | WBTV Charlotte

Missouri fair bans mask-wearing clown who mocked Obama

A clown wearing a President Barack Obama mask appeared at a Missouri State Fair rodeo this weekend and the announcer asked the enthusiastic spectators if they wanted to see "Obama run down by a bull." A clown wearing a President Barack Obama mask appeared at a Missouri State Fair rodeo this weekend and the announcer asked the enthusiastic spectators if they wanted to see "Obama run down by a bull."

The ramifications were swift after a rodeo clown wore a President Barack Obama mask and mocked the nation's leader.

On Monday, the Missouri State Fair announced that the board had permanently banned the rodeo clown. This came the same day that the clown apologized. Tuffy Gessling wrote on Facebook, "I am sorry. I never meant to offend anyone. I meant no disrespect to anyone for the joke or jokes I may have said at the rodeo. Once again, I never meant to offend or hurt anyone's feelings."

The announcer, who is superintendent of a central Missouri school district, is also trying to distance himself from the uproar.

The incident occurred Saturday night at the fairgrounds in Sedalia during the The Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association finals. Someone asked the enthusiastic spectators if they wanted to see "Obama run down by a bull." The crowd was also told, "We're gonna stomp Obama."

The rodeo announcer, Boonville School District Superintendent Mark Ficken, said, "Obama watch out for those bulls."

Some had accused Ficken of making off-color commentary, but that did not prove to be the case, his attorney says. His school board will discuss Ficken's role in the brouhaha in a special meeting Tuesday night.

The state fair is reviewing the actions by the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association, who hired the workers, as well as reviewing the current contract. State fair officials say before the rodeo association can return to the fair that it will have to prove that all officials and workers have undergone sensitivity training.

After video recorded by an outraged fairgoer was posted to the internet, it quickly went viral and made its way to the national morning news programs and even the halls of Congress.

Both Republicans and Democrats alike in Missouri expressed outrage, and some questioned whether to continue state funding for the state fair.

The antics led the state's second highest-ranking Republican official, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, to denounce the performance in a tweet Sunday. He said it was "disrespectful" to the president.

"We are better than this," Kinder tweeted.

State fair officials said the show in Sedalia was "inappropriate" and "does not reflect the opinions or standards" of the fair.

"We've just had a tremendous fair, a lot of fun and everything was going great and then it just takes one idiot to do something like that. It's just very disappointing," Missouri State Fair director Mark Wolfe said.

He offered an apology to those offended by what occurred Saturday night.

"It was certainly not something we would ever condone out here at the state fair," Wolfe said.

Perry Beam, who was among the spectators, said "everybody screamed" and "just went wild" as the announcer talked about having the bull run down the clown with the Obama mask.

"It was at that point I began to feel a sense of fear. It was that level of enthusiasm," Beam, a 48-year-old musician from Higginsville, said Sunday, referring to the reaction from the crowd that filled the fair's grandstand.

He said another clown ran up to the one wearing the Obama mask, pretended to tickle him and played with the lips on the mask. About 15 minutes into the performance, the masked clown had to leave after a bull got too close, Beam said.

Beam was at the rodeo with his wife and a student they were hosting from Taiwan. He said they were having a good time until the end of the rodeo.

"It was the usual until the very end at bull riding," he said. "As they were bringing the bulls into the chute and prepping them ... they bring out what looks like a dummy. The announcer says here's our Obama dummy, or our dummy of Obama."

"They mentioned the president's name, I don't know, 100 times. It was sickening," Beam said. "It was feeling like some kind of Klan rally you'd see on TV."

It sparked a firestorm of tweets and statements from Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO., saying "it's shameful and unacceptable" to the Jackson County Democratic Committee calling it "a show as ugly as any you could see."

An irate McCaskill demanded "someone to be held accountable."

"I understand people's concerns. I don't think anyone is more disappointed in what happened last night than we are. We take that very seriously," Wolfe said.

After Beam and his family returned home, he posted a photo of the clown in the Obama mask on his Facebook page. The photo and the posting were then promoted online by a blog, Showmeprogress.com, which elicited a huge response Sunday on Twitter.

The fair contracted out those rodeo workers through the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association.

That organization issued its own statement Sunday saying, "The act was not scripted and we did not know about it. The MRCA does not and will not allow for the rodeo to become a political platform. There will be swift disciplinary action as a result."

Scott Holste, spokesman for Missouri's Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, said Sunday in an email that Nixon "agrees that the performance was disrespectful and offensive, and does not reflect the values of Missourians or the State Fair."

Nixon himself made similar comments during a public appearance Monday.

"The performance was inappropriate and offensive," Nixon said. "The state fair should be showcasing the best of Missouri in a fun, family-friendly and positive atmosphere."

The state fair is mostly self-sufficient, but does receive close to $500,000 in public funding, and there were calls Sunday on social media to cut that funding out.

The fair's director stresses it was an independent act they couldn't have prevented and would never condone.

"We hold them accountable, and we certainly hold this person accountable for their actions. He will not be out here again, I promise you that," Wolfe said.

Beam, who grew up attending the state fair and attends the fair just about every year, said he has never seen anything like the Obama mask display, which he felt was inappropriate for a state-sanctioned event that receives state funding.

"This isn't the Republican Missouri State Fair," Beam said. "It was cruel. It was disturbing. I'm still sick to my stomach over it. I'm standing here with a mixed-race family. My wife's from Taiwan, and so was the student (his family was hosting). I've never seen anything so blatantly racist in my life."

"If an old country boy picks up on something like that, imagine what a person of color would think," he added.

Albert Watkins, an attorney for the Boonville superintendent, said his client is receiving hate mail because he has been wrongfully associated with comments that he did not make. He said his client  tried to make the best of an unfortunate situation.

"My client wasn't a part of this, didn't know about it, had no advance notice of it, did all that he could as an amateur trying to be as professional as he could to talk through this thing without having it become worse than it was," Watkins said.

Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) and The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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