The fallout from a Missouri rodeo clown’s mockery of President Obama continued as the Missouri State Fair said it will force all clowns to undergo sensitivity training and the head of the state rodeo-clown organization resigned.
The state fair commission voted Monday to ratify its decision to ban for life the clown in question who wore an Obama mask. The rodeo announcer and a second clown wearing a microphone asked whether the crowd wanted to see him get run down by a bull.
The crowd enthusiastically approved, according to spectators, one of whom compared it to a Ku Klux Klan rally and said his mixed-race family felt threatened.
But the state commission went further Monday, saying it will require that before the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association can take part in any future state fair, “they must provide evidence to the director of the Missouri State Fair that they have proof that all officials and subcontractors of the MRCA have successfully participated in sensitivity training.”
The mockery during Saturday’s bull riding event at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia and the resulting criticisms from Missouri elected officials of both parties has prompted two days of polarized commentary on social media and political talk shows, including calls for firings and investigations from liberals who called the skit racist.
Mark Ficken, president of the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association and the announcer at the event, resigned from the group over the state fair, his lawyer told The Associated Press on Tuesday. According to attorney Albert Watkins, Mr. Ficken resigned because the association has not expelled from its membership another clown, who made most of the Obama comments, and his client would not accept criticism on those terms.
“When he found out that the association had no plans to remove the rogue clown from its membership ranks, [Mr. Ficken] felt that the better part of valor — given what was said — was to resign from the association,” Mr. Watkins said.
Neither the state fair nor the rodeo association has named the clown who whipped up the crowd, but a friend and a relative of Tuffy Gessling have told AP he was that man.
Mr. Ficken also may be in trouble with his day job as superintendent of the Boonville School District. The district announced Monday it will ask an outside investigator to determine whether Mr. Ficken was involved in any “inappropriate conduct” during Saturday’s bull riding event.
Some Democratic Missouri lawmakers also want Gov. Jay Nixon to cancel his annual ham breakfast, scheduled for Thursday at the fairgrounds. But Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said that despite the “deplorable actions that took place during this one event,” the Democratic governor had no such plans.
On Tuesday, liberal radio host Earl Ofari Hutchinson called the clown skit a typical example of what he called the kind of racial contempt in which Republican voters hold Mr. Obama.
“The GOP is looking over their shoulder and they know this,” he told MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts. “They know the protesters were in Phoenix, they were in Orlando. All of that, and also the clown at the Missouri State Fair, even though it seems outrageous and ridiculous and ludicrous, they understand one thing: That’s their base. That’s their rank and file.”
But some defenders of the skit noted Tuesday that broad mockery of politicians is a common thing for rodeo clowns, who are an example of a style of entertainment from court jesters and vaudeville buffoons.
Charlie Spiering of The Washington Examiner cited a 1994 case of a rodeo clown wearing a mask of George H.W. Bush and noted that a contemporary account in The Philadelphia Inquirer closely resembled press accounts of the Missouri sketch.
“The big white gate flew open. The bull came out bucking. The rider flopped from side to side and the bullfighters held back, letting the bull make his moves until the rider dropped off. Licciardello crouched in a heavily padded barrel, a human target should the bull decide to charge. Hawkins waited near the barrel, holding his big inner tube. A dummy with a George Bush mask stood beside the clown, propped up by a broomstick,” wrote Douglas A. Campbell of The Inquirer at the time.
“T.J. Hawkins rolled out the big inner tube, and the bull lowered his head, shot forward and launched into the tube, sending it bounding down the center of the arena. The crowd cheered. Then the bull saw the George Bush dummy. He tore into it, sending the rubber mask flying halfway across the sand as he turned toward the fence, sending cowboys scrambling up the fence rails, hooking one with his horn and tossing him off the fence.”