clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

MMA-themed T-shirts ape Nazi imagery even if they don't use the authentic symbols

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Last week at our sister blog Bloody Elbow, Jonathan Snowden wrote about how Nazi imagery continues to haunt companies who sell MMA themed T-shirts, most recently with Silverstar's use of the Totenkopf, a symbol that (like the swastika and iron cross) was co-opted by the Nazis.  The Totenkopf appeared on various Silverstar shirts, including one worn by Clay Guida.  Luke Burrett of Silverstar emailed Bloody Elbow to defend his company:

"Silverstar has or will never promote Nazi imagery!! That shirt was created over a year ago from an artist that is now over at one of our competitors...We had no knowledge that a skull and cross bone would offend people, in this business a lot of clip art is used... The minute this was brought to our attention we researched and addressed the issue it's been removed from the site and has not been produced for quite some time."

Burrett failed to mention that in 2002, he had promised to stop using Nazi imagery (with the exception of the Iron Cross due to its non-Nazi connotations) after Newport Harbour High School Students complained about Silverstar using the lightning bolt-stylized SS logo.

Nancy Carlson, a spokesperson for Authentic Brand Groups (the company that recently purchased Silverstar, TapOut, and Hitman Fight Gear), also commented to Bloody Elbow:

"Under no circumstances does Authentic Brands Group use, create or condone the use of Nazi imagery in the apparel brands under the ABG umbrell...It is ABG's understanding that the mentioned incidents were addressed immediately at the time of occurrence and any product, logo or graphic immediately eradicated. Luke Burrett of Silver Star has done everything in his power to pull and eliminate the mentioned product. We care greatly about our customers and take this matter seriously."

Two days ago, Zach Arnold posted on his FightOpinion blog about an email he solicited from T-shirt designer Jeff Finley.  From the letter:

"I'm a designer who does a lot of apparel industry work. In my objective opinion, I would assume that Silver Star had no clue the resemblance to Nazi imagery. I'm sure they're not trying to subtly convey any white supremacist or Nazi beliefs and it's pure coincidence that that skull ended up on their shirt. I've seen this kind of stuff before. They're right, it's a very clip-art driven industry. Skulls have seen a huge resurgence in mainstream culture and are used on everything from death metal records to teenie-bopper pajamas you find at Target. The same could be said for heraldry, wings, shields, etc. These are popular design elements that have been reappropriated to ride the trends and appeal to the youth market. I know because I've been creating these kinds of graphics for apparel companies since 2005. I've been asked to Make it Look like Affliction hundreds of times."

I refuse to buy the notion that any resemblance to Nazi symbols is completely unintentional.  I believe the exact opposite: The "MMA apparel" companies are constantly trying to ape the Nazi aesthetic and they're only called out on it when they copy actual Nazi symbols as opposed to just using similar imagery (or when they're Hoelzer Reich, for obvious reasons).

When Wal-Mart used the Totenkopf, while they presumably had no idea what it represented, but they were trying to knock off shirts with a similar aesthetic to Nazi imagery.  The companies who make shirts geared towards MMA fighters and fans have used Nazi imagery a lot more to the point that I refuse to believe that it's completely coincidental.  From Affliction and TapOut all the way on down to smaller companies, the shirts all look similar: Skulls, crossbones, eagles/wings, lightning, crosses that are similar to but not quite Iron Crosses, etc.  They're all common in Nazi imagery, but the actual Nazi symbols aren't being copied.  Affliction even has what they call "SS tees."  While SS presumably means signature serious, they should probably spell it out.  In terms of design, Hoelzer Reich (who I'm only linking to so you can see exactly what they're offering) doesn't even look that much different aside from using clear, undeniable Nazi symbols.

Now, I don't think that the people behind MMA clothing companies other than Hoelzer Reich are necessarily fans of the Nazis, but to ignore the similarities in design is ridiculous.  They only end up using Nazi symbols because they're already using similar imagery to target people who that appeals to: The type of MMA fans who started liking Chael Sonnen when he started making lots of racist, xenophobic, and homophobic comments.  Wearing "MMA" shirts doesn't make you a Nazi or a racist or anything like that (unless it's Hoelzer Reich), especially if you're unfamiliar with Nazi imagery.  It also has nothing to do with the quality of the designs: The Nazis made a point of using striking, well-designed imagery and that's part of why everything happened the way it did, but that doesn't mean that it's a good idea to evoke it.  UFC needs to run from these kind of associations if they want, especially since they're already haunted by it if boxing promoter's Bob Arum's infamous quote is indicative of anything:

"I look at the UFC audience and boxing audience as entirely different.  Boxing's audience is largely ethnic and includes the hardcore fans who, like me, can't watch UFC.  UFC's a bunch of skinhead white guys watching a bunch of people in the ring who also look like skinhead white guys. Ninety per cent of the MMA audience have tattoos - and I don't care because that's up to them."

Edited to add something to try to make my point more clear: 

Lemmy from the band Motorhead is not a Nazi sympathizer. He just really likes the aesthetics of Nazi imagery and uses it in Motorhead merchandise. Even if his intentions are pure, I don’t have to like it or think it’s a good idea.

I don’t think that people from most of the MMA shirt companies are Nazi sympathizers. I think they just like the aesthetics of Nazi imagery and use in their merchandise. Even if their intentions are pure, I don’t have to like it or think it’s a good idea.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Cageside Seats Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your pro wrestling news from Cageside Seats