JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A rodeo announcer at the Missouri State Fair had no advance knowledge of a widely criticized act in which a “rogue rodeo clown” wearing a President Barack Obama mask asked the crowd if they would like to see him knocked down, an attorney said Monday.
Media accounts of the weekend bull riding event reported that an announcer asked spectators if they wanted to see “Obama run down by a bull.” Many in the audience responded with enthusiastic cheers.
Those words came not from the announcer but from a rodeo clown who was wearing a microphone, according to St. Louis attorney Albert Watkins, representing the announcer, Mark Ficken.
“He was as surprised as anyone with the appearance of an Obama-masked rodeo clown,” Watkins said of his client.
Ficken is president of the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association and also is superintendent of the Boonville School District.
The Saturday rodeo act at the fair in Sedalia has been criticized by both Democratic and Republican officials in Missouri as disrespectful of Obama.
The antics led the state’s second highest-ranking 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,” the Republican tweeted.
State Fair officials said the show in Sedalia was “inappropriate” and “does not reflect the opinions or standards” of the fair. “We strive to be a family friendly event and regret that Saturday’s rodeo badly missed that mark,” they said in a statement Sunday.
It wasn’t clear if any action will be taken against the performers.
Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, said in a statement on her website, “If what’s being reported is true, then it’s shameful and it’s unacceptable.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
State Fair officials said in a statement Sunday that the act was “inappropriate” and “does not reflect the opinions or standards” of the fair. The Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association, which sponsored the event, also apologized in an online statement and said its board of directors “is dealing with the situation firmly and quickly as this type of behavior will not be tolerated.”
Watkins described his client as a “beleaguered school superintendent” who has been inundated with retaliatory actions because of the conduct of a “rogue rodeo clown.” He said Ficken’s only comment during the event was to say, “Watch out for that bull Obama!” Watkins said that was meant as a warning for the rodeo clown’s safety as a bull was nearing him.
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