3 months, 3 weeks ago By Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog
"All officials and subcontractors of the MRCA must have successfully participated in sensitivity training"
Anyone wishing to dress up in makeup and aid bullriders at the Missouri State Fair will need to graduate from clown college, with a degree in sensitivity.
In the aftermath of the President Obama-mask-wearing incident at the state fair in Sedalia on Saturday, the Missouri State Fair Commission said that before it contracts with the Missouri Rodeo Cowboys Association to put on another show the group must provide evidence “that all officials and subcontractors of the MRCA have successfully participated in sensitivity training.”
Missouri Watchdog attempted to contact the commission Thursday to determine the scope of that training, but neither director Mark Wolfe nor marketing director Tammie Nichols returned calls.
MRCA has circled its wagons, removing names of officers and contact information from its website and posting an apologetic message on its homepage.
“All further acts will be available for review before they are performed at and by the Missouri State Fair,” it says.
How common is sensitive training for clowns? A representative of the Cowboy Professional Rodeo Association in Texas, who declined to give her name, said she’d never heard of it, adding “there is no clown school.” B
ob O’ Neal, founder and past president of Virginia-based Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, said Missouri fair officials appear to have “overstepped” their bounds.
“Satire, parody, caricature have always been fully protected speech, and certainly in the context of a state fair, which is a classically public forum,” he said.
The state fair commission banned from events performer Tuffy Gessling, who was first misidentified as the man behind the Obama mask but later revealed to be the announcer on the microphone calling for a bull to get another clown wearing the mask.
“Hey, I know I’m a clown,” Gessling said in Sedalia Saturday night. “He’s just running around acting like one, doesn’t know he is one.”
Gessling told University of Central Missouri news site digitalBURG the skit was simply meant as a joke. “Comedians all over the country have used political figures to make fun of current events,” he said. “It’s nothing new.”
Gessling hasn’t disclosed the identity of the man behind the mask because he said the prank was his idea and because of the negative attention it would cause his colleague.
Most interested parties and politicians on both sides of the aisle could only be accused of overt sensitivity in their condemnation of the act.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest, a native of Missouri, called the incident “not one of the finer moments for our state” while the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association called the “disrespecting” of the presidential office “un-American.”
Missouri Democrats have suggested the Republican-dominated House consider slashing the $558,000 in tax revenue the Missouri State Fair collects.
The NAACP called for a probe by the Justice Department and Secret Service. This isn’t the first time a “president” has set foot inside the arena – and the last time the bull really did get him.
In the pre-Internet age of 1994, a bull tore into a dummy in a George H.W. Bush costume, sending his rubber head flying through the air to cheers from the crowd.
Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas invited the clowns involved in the Missouri incident to perform in his state, accusing Democrats of “bronco bust dissent.”
“Texans value speech, even if its speech they don’t agree with,” Stockman said.