STURBRIDGE — The owners of a local jewelry store say they received death threats after a billboard advertising their business included a reference to NFL players who kneel during the national anthem in protest of racial injustices.
Scott A. Garieri, who owns Garieri Jewelers on Main Street, put up the billboard message Saturday on Route 20 at Richardson’s Corner Road in Charlton. It has a picture of a man kneeling on a football field inside a stadium while holding a ring as he proposes to a young woman. The billboard reads: “If you’re going to take a knee this season please have a ring in your hand.”
Mr. Garieri and his daughter, Alexandria L. O’Brien, 31, of Charlton, who manages the store, said since Tuesday they have received hundreds of negative comments on FaceBook, including some that told Ms. O’Brien to kill herself.
“People have said they’re going to urinate on our property, vomit on our showcases, and I was told to kill myself,” Ms. O’Brien said Wednesday. “I am not going to kill myself. I can assure you that. And the billboard is not coming down. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. But when you tell someone to go kill themself, you have absolutely crossed the line.”
Ms. O’Brien said the police have not been contacted because she isn’t sure what they can do. She said the negative social media comments began after the Rev. Laura E. Everett posted a picture of the billboard and a comment on her Facebook page and Twitter.
Rev. Everett is executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches. She could not be reached for comment. Meagan Manas with the MCC said in an email that Rev. Everett is out of the office on sabbatical this fall.
In her post, Rev. Everett said, “In case we’ve forgotten about racism in New England… It’s stunning to flip the NFL BLM protests, and turn it into a racist marketing opportunity.”
A person using the name of Laurie Ardizzoni replied by telling Rev. Everett that she knew the moment she shared the post she was “Inticing (sic) anger and hatred.”
Father and daughter acknowledge that they are supporters of President Donald Trump, who has made a point of disparaging NFL players who kneel during the national anthem and has told team owners that the players should be fired for disrespecting the American flag. The president has also urged fans to protest the kneeling by walking out of games.
The controversial movement was started in 2016 by Colin Kaepernick, former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. He has said the silent protest was meant as a stand against police brutality and to show support for people of color who are being oppressed.
Mr. Garieri, 57, a former selectman, said the billboard message was suggested by his brother, William Garieri, a retired jeweler who lives in Florida.
He said the billboard is a clever marketing tool that quickly captured the attention of motorists and possible customers. A friend who teaches marketing told him that the message is “right on the money.”
“It’s promoting love. It’s promoting getting engaged,” he said with a chuckle. “For the last 200 years people have been getting on one knee to get engaged.
“With this billboard, we blended two things: taking a knee to get engaged and people taking a knee at the football games,” he continued.
Mr. Garieri said the message was not meant to be racist.
“I stand behind it 100 percent. It was not ever made to make any racist connotation to it. We took a play of words and put a little spin on it.”
He acknowledged that if the president had not made a national issue out of the kneeling, he probably would not have thought of putting up the billboard. He says everybody is entitled to their opinion, but he disagrees with what the kneeling NFL players are doing.
“What they’re doing is disrespecting the national anthem,” he said. “We have veterans that have fought hard and gave their lives so these people have the right to cry about my billboard. When you disrespect the national anthem, you disrespect the country, and I take offense with that. There are other ways to fight racial inequalities. To me, that’s not the way to do it.”
He said the NFL players should concentrate on the “the root of the problem.”
“Half of the problem with some of the youths today is that they’re in single-parent homes. Fathers are not there to help them … there’s no guidance,” he said. “You’ve got six guys in the NFL that have fathered 54 kids with 11 different women. That is well documented.”
Mr. Garieri said he thinks it’s “disgusting” that Nike recently announced that Colin Kapernick is the face of its “Just Do It” campaign.
“I think he’s a thug for pushing his beliefs down our throats,” he said.
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