Tuffy the Clown wants his life back.
The rodeo clown's mask of President Barack Obama drew worldwide attention and criticism at the Missouri State Fair in August, but Thomas Gessling says it's time to set the record straight:
He was never the man in the mask.
Gessling, who was banned for life from performing at Missouri rodeos after the uproar, says he'll never reveal the identity of the clown who did put on the President Obama mask that day, in order to protect him from the death threats and other backlash. Gessling has been in hiding for months.
Now, Gessling has returned to the public eye. Since dozens of copycat sites have popped up all over the Internet, he posed with a current Kansas City Star on his Facebook page before releasing a manifesto and a Change.org petition Gessling hopes will clear his name.
"Tuffy was tried and convicted in the court of public opinion without ever being given the chance to tell his side of the story," he posts online. "Not only had political correctness gone haywire, it ruined the life of a lovable rodeo clown, and no one was interested in hearing the truth about what really happened that day."
Continue reading to see Tuffy the Clown's newly released, full account of what happened. So here's the truth, according to Gessling:
Rodeo clowns have been performing the same political skit featuring presidents and other well-known figures for 25 years. Last summer the rodeo clown wearing the President Obama mask was new to the gig and told Gessling he was nervous about being in the ring with the bull.
Gessling helped his fellow clown out, he says. He carried the clown out to the center of the ring and then started to make jokes over the microphone to the audience to ease the clown's nerves.
When the clown whispered that the mask was slipping and he couldn't see, Gessling continued joking with the crowd while he helped adjust the mask. Many in the audience or who would watch the video online misconstrued Gessling's actions, thinking he was playing with the mask's lips in a racially insensitive and disrespectful way, Gessling says.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," says Gessling. "I was just trying to calm down the guy in the mask and adjust it so that he could see. I kept assuring him that I would distract the bull and keep him safe as his character came alive, and then he was to run out of the arena."
Gessling's post went viral Monday night, earning nearly 2,000 likes and 600 shares in nine hours.
He also posted a petition on Change.org asking everyone from Obama himself to the director of Missouri rodeos to reinstate Gessling into his beloved profession as a rodeo clown. After only a few hours, the petition has already drawn more than 500 signatures -- half of what it needs to receive an official reaction from the White House.
"Tuffy believes his First Amendment right to free speech has been violated, and now he wants to set the record straight and regain his life," he posts online.
This is hardly Gessling's first chance to correct the record of his last rodeo. He drew so much support from new fans last summer that he considered signing with a talent agent.
Nearly 85,000 people follow the clown on Facebook, and supporters are posting encouraging notes in response to his latest news.
"On behalf of 99.9 percent of all Missourians, I apologize, Tuffy," writes Karen Gamble Bixby on the rodeo clown's Facebook page. "I want everyone to know that we're not all morons. This was just an extremely loud, but extremely tiny, minority, and we're embarrassed that this happened in our state."