Fighting was fierce in Le Paradis, France, in late May of 1940. Adolf Hitler and his army were marching through the country, pushing the British and French back all the way to the English Channel. A small group of British soldiers, almost a hundred strong, were separated from their regiment. Out of ammo and options, they surrendered to the SS Totenkopf, a vicious German unit made up primarily of concentration camp guards and heavily indoctrinated in German propaganda.
The SS accepted their surrender, took their equipment and weapons, then lined them all up, and in violation of international law and human decency, executed them to a man. After the machine guns bursts the vicious Nazi's went in with bayonets, looking to finish the job. It was just one of many massacres committed by soldiers representing the Totenkopf, or death's head.
Millions gave their lives to defeat the Nazi menace, but to many, that is now ancient history. To others, it is a history well remembered. It's no coincidence that Nazi imagery is still used to sell products to disaffected white people, young and angry skinheads and motorcycle gangs. Unfortunately for the growing sport of MMA, many fighters and fight fans are being lumped into this category as well.
Boxing promoter Bob Arum once referred to MMA fans as a group of skinheads and racists. He was widely criticized in the MMA community, but seems more and more prescient as Nazi imagery pops up again and again on MMA apparel. Recently Hoelzer Reich was banned from UFC broadcasts for their repugnant t-shirts, shirts that were seemingly unambigous in their support of Neo Nazis and other hate groups. But Hoelzer Reich was hardly alone. Dethrone and other groups have also reappropriated Nazi imagery for their t-shirts. Most recently, Luke Burrett's Silver Star brand has featured the Totenkopf prominently on his gear, including on a t-shirt worn by fighter Clay Guida in a video for FIGHT! Magazine (video since removed by FIGHT!)
"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," Burrett wrote in an email to Bloody Elbow. "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."
More on Silver Star and their history of using Nazi imagery after the jumpIt's not the first time the brand has come under fire for the use of German Army imagery. In 2002, Newport Harbor High School students led a campaign against Silver Star, then featuring a "SS" logo that the protesters felt too closely resembled the Nazi SS symbol. Burrett agreed to remove the logo and trash $7000 worth of merchandise:
Since the company now caters to younger customers, Burrett said it made good business sense to eliminate the lightning-bolt Ss from the Silver Star logo. However, Burrett said he is drawing the line there. He won't eliminate the iron cross, which he considers a symbol of bravery, as a design element.
Eight years later and little has changed. Burrett is still borrowing Nazi imagery to sell t-shirts, this time using popular UFC fighter Clay Guida and the sport's most important magazine, FIGHT!, which posted a video of Guida wearing a t-shirt featuring the Totenkopf and World War II era bombers, a clear reference to the Nazi Luftwaffe's 54th Bomber Wing. FIGHT! has since pulled the video from their site and from YouTube.
"At FIGHT! we are against all forms of prejudice, hate speech and discrimination. We chose to highlight Mr. Guida because he is a fan favorite and represents to our minds some of the noblest aspects of MMA such as discipline, hard work, and an indomitable will both in training and in competition," Editor in Chief Donovan Craig wrote in an email to Bloody Elbow. "I was unaware of the controversial nature of the shirt as I'm sure Rick (video producer Rick Lee - Editor) was and very likely Clay was as well."
Guida, who fights former PRIDE star Takanori Gomi this weekend at UFC 125, was said to be upset by the association. Guida was shown in the video wearing a variety of gear but did his main interview in the controversial Silver Star shirt.
"Clay had no clue what the imagery meant of what it represents," Guida's manager John Fosco, the owner of VFElite Sports Agency said. "...When he heard about it, Clay was appalled. He's as open minded as they come and he completely denounces any Nazi imagery or anything related to Nazis. Clay wants to make it clear he had no idea what the imagery was about. Typically, sponsors send you clothing to wear for specific shoots and that's exactly what happened. Silver Star sent him a box of clothing and he wore the shirt, didn't think twice about it, and now we're in this situation. But he wants to make clear he had nothing to do with the imagery and did not even know it was there."
Authentic Brand Groups, the company that recently purchased Silver Star and other MMA apparel companies made it clear that they do not condone the use of Nazi imagery.
"Under no circumstances does Authentic Brands Group use, create or condone the use of Nazi imagery in the apparel brands under the ABG umbrella," ABG Spokesperson Nancy Carlson wrote to Bloody Elbow. "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."
More Silver Star use of the Totenkopf:
Use of the image in Nazi Germany: