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Missouri rodeo cowboy official resigns amid Obama-masked clown furor

Updated: 2013-08-13T23:34:27Z

By DAVE HELLING

The Kansas City Star

Outrage over a rodeo clown’s masked performance as President Barack Obama at the Missouri State Fair spilled into Tuesday as the president of the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association announced his resignation.

An attorney for rodeo announcer Mark Ficken said that his resignation from the group is not an acknowledgment of wrongdoing on his part but rather a protest that the association has not banned the rodeo clown from its membership.

Ficken's resignation from the rodeo group comes as he tries to hold on to his job as superintendent of the Boonville School District. The school system announced Monday that it is hiring an investigator to look into whether Ficken was involved in any "inappropriate conduct" during Saturday's bull riding event at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia.

Reaction to the performance has rocketed around the Internet in videos, tweets, blog posts and news releases.

State fair officials moved quickly to try and stem the criticism, banning the rodeo performer and requiring sensitivity training for the event’s sponsor if it wants to be a part of the fair in the future.

But the moves did not slow condemnation of the Saturday evening incident, in which an unidentified performer donned an Obama mask and entered a rodeo ring at the Sedalia-based fair.

According to witnesses, a voice on the public address system asked spectators if they wanted to see the Obama figure run over by a bull, prompting cheers and applause.

“As soon as this bull comes out, Obama, don’t you move,” says an amplified voice on one amateur video. “He’s going to getcha, getcha, getcha.”

Witnesses said another rodeo clown bobbled the lips on the Obama mask.

A web-posted video shows the masked figure running away from a charging bull at the end of the incident.

Monday, fair officials called the performance offensive and unacceptable. Its board voted to ban the still-unidentified performer from any future work at the fair.

But some lawmakers said it wasn’t enough. Missouri Rep. Steve Webb, a St. Louis-area Democrat, called on Gov. Jay Nixon to cancel the annual Governor’s Ham Breakfast at the fair, scheduled for this Thursday.

The breakfast involves Republicans and Democrats and is one of the biggest political events of the year in Missouri.

“Since I’ve been in the legislature, we’ve seen a lot of things with a lot of racial undertones,” Webb said. “But nothing’s ever done about it. There has to be consequences at some point.”

Nixon, through a spokesman, said the incident was “deplorable,” but the breakfast would go on.

“The governor has said in no uncertain terms that the statements and actions at the rodeo...were offensive and disrespectful,” said spokesman Scott Holste in an email. “And contracts are currently being reviewed to determine what further action can be taken to hold those responsible accountable.”

The White House declined to comment.

Saturday’s event was staged by the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association, which has apologized for the incident. Ficken was the announcer at the rodeo.

Monday, the Missouri State Fair’s board of directors said the association’s leaders and subcontractors must undergo “sensitivity training” before they’ll be eligible to stage future events at the fair.

Liberal bloggers and websites roundly denounced the incident Monday, some comparing it to a Ku Klux Klan event. Most mainstream conservative bloggers either ignored the incident or criticized it.

In general, Republicans and Democrats denounced the incident throughout the day. State Democratic party chairman Mike Sanders, the Jackson County executive, condemned the display as “inappropriate and shameful.”

Some state politicians suggested suspension of taxpayer funding for the fair, which costs the state treasury more than $400,000 annually.

But others said the clown’s performance was protected by the First Amendment.

“Free speech is free speech,” wrote tea party columnist and talk-show host Dana Loesch, adding: “Democrats would have you believe that any disagreement, any mocking, any ridicule is reflexively racist.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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