A stunt performed by a rodeo clown wearing a President Obama mask at Saturday's rodeo on the Missouri State Fairgrounds drew strong condemnation from public officials and and an apology from the event's organizer on Monday.
Saturday's event, sponsored by the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association, included a skit in which the man in the Obama mask stood in the center of the ring as a voice on the loudspeaker said, in part: "We're going to smoke Obama." The story, which originated on the Facebook account of one of the spectators blew up through the day on Sunday after Show Me Progress - a state political blog - reposted the man's comments and linked to video of the performance.
During a press conference Monday morning, Fair Director Mark Wolfe expressed apologies to those in attendance and issued a sharp rebuke to rodeo organizers.
"We are appalled at what happened over there Saturday night," Wolfe said. " Certainly our apologies (go out) to folks that were there and saw that that night and that apology goes all the way to the President of the United States. That is not something we condone."
Wolfe said he learned about the incident Sunday morning and immediately contacted MRCA officials.
"I vigorously communicated (to MRCA) my disappointment at what happened and communicated that is something that will not be tolerated out here. I let them know that that individual who was the actual clown that was in the arena last night is banned ... he won't be back for any events whatsoever."
In addition, Wolfe said he contacted other event coordinators ad contracted service providers "to let them know that kind of activity won't be tolerated out here."
Fair organizers are reviewing language in performance contracts for possible changes, and, Wolfe said, were also reviewing the fair's relationship with MRCA.
"We furthermore hold MRCA responsible for all the offensive stuff and everybody that was involved in that and we expect them to hold them all accountable. In addition, as the Missouri State Fair considers contracting with this association for future rodeos, before we do that they are going to have to provide evidence to my office that all their officials and subcontractors have successfully participated in some kind of sensitivity training. We fully expect the MRCA will take severe and immediate disciplinary action with those folks."
Reports through the day on Sunday identified MRCA President Mark Ficken, who also serves as superintendent of schools in Boonville, as the announcer and the voice heard on the loudspeaker, however Ficken denied making many of the remarks being attributed to him in media reports through St. Louis attorney Albert Watkins.
Watkins told media outlets Monday morning that Ficken was unaware of the intended skit, blaming the comments on a "rogue rodeo clown," and said Ficken's only comment was meant as a warning to the clown as a bull was approaching him.
MRCA released a statement regarding the event Monday morning, apologizing for the situation.
"The Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association would like to extend a sincere apology for the inappropriate act during the Bull Riding at the Saturday performance of the MRCA Rodeo. The MRCA Board of Directors and over 600 members do not condone nor approve of this sort of activity. The MRCA Board of Directors is dealing with the situation firmly and quickly as this type of behavior will not be tolerated. The sport of rodeo is not meant to be a political platform. We are taking measures by training and educating our contract acts to prevent anything like this from ever happening again. All Members of the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association are very proud of our country and our president," the statement read.
The controversial stunt was condemned by officials from both sides of the political aisle, with Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, saying "the young Missourians who witnessed this stunt learned exactly the wrong lesson about political discourse, that somehow it's ever acceptable to, in a public event, disrespect, taunt and joke about harming the president."
Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, also condemned the action through his official Twitter account on Sunday, saying simply: "We are better than this."