By Kevin Murphy
KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - A clown who wore a mask of President Barack Obama at a Missouri State Fair rodeo and encouraged a bull to run him down as the crowd cheered was banned Monday from any future state fairs.
The incident Saturday night was denounced by leading Democrats and Republicans and fair officials as disrespectful to the president.
The Missouri State Fair Commission voted Monday to "permanently ban this rodeo clown from ever participating or performing" at the annual state fair, according to a news release.
"The Missouri State Fair apologizes for the unconscionable stunt," the commission said.
The commission did not identify the clown in its statement, and officials could not be reached for further comment.
The clown appeared at the finals of the Missouri Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeo at the fair in Sedalia, Missouri, about 94 miles southwest of Kansas City. A Facebook account of the clown's stunt appeared on the website of Show Me Progress, which identifies itself as a "progressive politics community" for Missouri, from a person who reported attending the fair with a student from Taiwan.
"The announcer wanted to know if anyone would like to see Obama run down by a bull," the posting said. "The crowd went wild. He asked it again and again, louder each time, whipping the audience into a lather."
On Monday, Albert Watkins, a lawyer for the main announcer at the rodeo, said that the unidentified clown who wore the Obama mask made most of the remarks himself into a microphone he was wearing. Rodeo clowns use their own microphones and choose their own mask and routine, Watkins said.
Watkins said his client Mark Ficken, who was the main announcer and is fair association president and superintendent of schools in Boonville, Missouri, has been unduly faulted in the incident.
The only remark Ficken made as announcer was a standard warning to clowns to be careful, in this case saying, "Watch out for that bull, Obama," Watkins said.
Watkins said the rest of the Show Me Progress posting describing the event was accurate.
"A clown wearing a political mask is not unusual," Watkins said. "What was unusual was that what started out as funny became off-color, inappropriate and political in nature, if not out-and-out racist. There is no place for that at a state fair."
The Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association posted a "sincere apology for the inappropriate act during the bull-riding show" at the fair.
"The sport of rodeo is not meant to be a political platform," the association stated. The board is "dealing with the situation firmly and quickly and this type of behavior will not be tolerated," it said.
The fair commission said the terms of its contract with the rodeo association to conduct rodeos is under review to decide if any further action is warranted.
(Reporting by Kevin Murphy; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Leslie Adler)