Local arena soccer team the Baltimore Blast altered a racist T-shirt on its online store after people criticized the shirt’s anti-China design.
The shirt remained available to purchase online for $20 until at least 9 a.m. Tuesday and was removed from the website around 10 a.m., hours after multiple Baltimore-area residents, including Baltimore Fishbowl managing editor Brandon Weigel, tweeted about the shirt Monday night.
One side of the shirt featured the American flag and the team’s logo over the word “strong.” The other side featured a solid red map of the country of China behind the word “China,” which was crossed out.
By 3 p.m., the shirt was back on the Baltimore Blast’s online store but was listed as sold out and only featured the American flag side of the design.
In an interview with the Baltimore Brew, Gianni Tumminello, vice president of soccer operations and general manager, said Baltimore Blast owner Edwin F. Hale Sr. came up with the idea for the shirt “as a joke” at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
The shirt had been available for sale since March.
“It was forgotten about–out of sight, out of mind–after everything shut down,”Tumminello told The Brew. “It was done as a joke.”
Tumminello went on to say that people are allowed to call the shirt is racist because “it’s a free country. They can say anything they want.”
But when asked by The Brew whether he regarded the shirt as racist, Tumminello simply said, “It’s a weird time.”
Tumminello did not immediately return a request for comment from Baltimore Fishbowl.
Baltimore Sun reporter Hallie Miller reported that Hale said to anyone who is offended by the shirt, “Don’t buy tickets to my games, don’t buy my t-shirts, don’t come.”
“I don’t care what they think because they’re wrong,” Hale, a developer and former CEO of First Mariner Bancorp, added in his interview with The Sun. “They want to talk about me for being insensitive—what, are you kidding me?” he said. “It’s not about the people. It’s about the Chinese Communists.”
Hale added that he disagrees with the Chinese government’s use of force and handling of the coronavirus, The Sun reported.
Hale also did not immediately return a request for comment from Baltimore Fishbowl.
The ACLU of Maryland tweeted a statement from the organization’s executive director, Dana Vickers Shelley, who pointed to the uptick in anti-Asian attacks during the coronavirus pandemic after the virus was first detected in Wuhan, China.
“It is dangerous, reckless, and racist to stigmatize Chinese people as the whole world struggles to save lives and contain COVID-19 during this pandemic,” Shelley said. “We have seen terrible incidents of violence and harassment against Asian Americans in Maryland and across the country. We all must speak up against it. Racism and xenophobia have no place anywhere.”
Pablo Iglesias Maurer, a writer who covers soccer for The Athletic, shared an image of the shirt on Twitter and added: “Guys this is a real piece of merchandise on the @baltimoreblast‘s website. I can’t stress this enough — this is a real piece of racist-ass, ignorant merchandise on the website of an actual (sorta) major professional soccer team in the USA. WTF, man.”
In the midst of protests against police brutality and systemic racism, with demonstrations sparked by police killing Black people, such as Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, many companies posted plain black squares or messages over black squares in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
On June 3, the Baltimore Blast posted a message on Instagram with the hashtag #RiseAsOne, in which the team said that it “strongly condemns racism in all forms.”
“Our society has no room for violence, bigotry, or prejudice,” the post said. “The well being of our players, coaches, cheerleaders, opponents, fans, and everyday citizens are very important to us. We stand arm and arm, hand in hand with those who seek to inspire change. Black lives matter and we stand by those living in fear. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., ‘there comes a time when silence is betrayal.'”
Jeff Husted, director of digital content and public relations for the Major Arena Soccer League, which the Baltimore Blast is part of, deferred to the Baltimore Blast regarding the shirt.
“We are aware of the item listed on the Blast’s shop website earlier today,” Husted said. “The merchandise is wholly controlled by the Baltimore Blast. Any other further comments about it, we’d refer you to the organization.”
“The league’s standpoint is we’re not involved with it in any way, shape or form,” he added.
The Baltimore Blast has played at Towson University’s SECU Arena since 2017, after the team ended a 37-year run at Royal Farms Arena.
A Towson University spokesperson also said, “We will defer to the Blast to comment on this issue.”
This story has been updated.
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