Clown Banned, Announcer Resigns After State Fair Rodeo

Justin Wingerter

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – There was further fallout Monday from a controversy sparked Saturday night when a rodeo clown wearing a mask of President Barack Obama was taunted in front of a cheering and jeering Missouri State Fair crowd.

First came word Monday morning that Mark Ficken, superintendent of the Boonville R-1 School District and an announcer at the event, had obtained legal counsel in hopes of clearing his name. Ficken became president of the Missouri Cowboy Rodeo Association Saturday morning, a post he resigned after just two days Monday.

Regardless of the resignation, St. Louis attorney Albert Watkins says Ficken wants to “set the story straight.”

According to the lawyer, a “rogue rodeo clown” wearing the mask was not part of the scripted show and Ficken had no advance knowledge of it.

Furthermore, the lawyer says audio heard in video of the event came from the clown himself, wearing a wireless microphone, not his client.

“Unfortunately, in this day of internet piling on, once an outlet published an incorrect statement of facts, the erroneous attribution to my client of comments made by a rogue rodeo clown went viral,” Watkins says in the statement Monday morning. “My client is now being inundated by responsive and retaliatory action, all of which is premised on a false recital of facts. It is respectfully suggested that the media needs to cut out the bull and get the facts straight.”

As for the rodeo clown in question, he was identified unofficially Sunday as Tuffy Gessling and has been barred from performing at the fair. Late Sunday, Gessling posted an apology on his Facebook page.


In a statement Monday, Missouri State Fair officials called on the Rodeo Cowboy Association to “hold all those responsible for this offensive stunt accountable.”

Also Monday, several statewide and congressional politicians weighed in on the controversy which has garnered national headlines.

U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, said he was “amazed that in 2013 such hatred, intolerance and disrespect towards the President of the United States could take place at the Missouri State Fair.”

“Our fair is supposed to showcase the best of Missouri, instead, it showed an ugly face of intolerance and ignorance to the world,” Clay added.

Gov. Jay Nixon was asked about the controversy while in Kirkwood Monday. He called on the Office of Administration to review the contracts of those who hosted Saturday’s rodeo.

“I think that’s a lot better and more reasonable approach to this than canceling events that Missouri families and others look forward to each year,” he said. “The Missouri State Fair is an important part of the traditions of our state and when people mess with that tradition, certainly it upsets us.”

Missouri Rep. Steve Webb, D-Florissant, said he was “incensed” by the incident.

“Sometimes apologies just won’t do. While I do not believe this represents all of rural Missouri, the racial undertones of a taunted rodeo clown dressed as our nation’s first black president is what the nation woke up to this morning,” Webb said. “It’s time for all of us, from both rural and urban areas, to fight this type of sentiment with a united front. Leaders of this state need to do more than accept a pressured apology.”

Webb called on Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to cancel his annual State Fair ham breakfast Thursday in protest.

A day earlier, as word of the show spread on social media, politicians on both sides of the aisle spoke out in condemnation.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, released a statement Sunday, calling the event “shameful” and “unacceptable.”

Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, tweeted late Sunday afternoon that the Missouri State Fair “celebrates Missouri and our people. I condemn the actions disrespectful to POTUS the other night. We are better than this.”

Missouri Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, D-Kansas City, wrote on Twitter that he would no longer attend Missouri State Fair events and Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, called the event “racist and degrading.”

Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, tweeted “I don’t agree w/ this Prez on many things. But he is deserving of respect and shouldn’t be the object of political stunts. Out of line!”

Much of the controversy has centered on the fair’s status as a publicly funded event which is generally void of overt political pandering. Estimates differ on how many taxpayer dollars go to the fair each year, ranging from a few hundred thousand dollars to as many as $5 million.

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