Papa John’s Founder Will Step Down As CEO After Criticizing National Anthem Protests In The NFL

Pizza should never get political. Papa John’s founder John Schnatter learned that when he made comments criticizing protests in the NFL. Schnatter criticized NFL players for kneeling during the anthem and blamed the poor sales at his pizza chain on the controversy. Schnatter apologized two weeks later, but now it has been announced that Schnatter will step down as CEO of the company.

Shares in the company had been declining since December 2016. There was already a decrease of about 30% before founder John Schnatter made the comments on a November 1st sales call. “The controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country,” said Schnatter, in regards to the protests taking place in the NFL.

After he made the comments in regards to players kneeling during the anthem, there was a further drop in the company’s stock prices of about 13%. Schnatter himself saw a decrease of over $80 million in his own shares of the company. The announcement that Schnatter will step down was made on December 21st.

Founder John Schnatter will stay on as chairman of the board but will be succeeded as CEO by Chief Operating Officer Steve Ritchie beginning January 1st, 2018. Ritchie started as a sales associate with Papa John’s before becoming a franchise owner. He then moved to corporate operations in 2010. Ritchie declined to comment on the reason for Schnatter stepping down.

The trouble started after founder John Schnatter criticized NFL players for kneeling during the anthem. The protests that began with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick were meant to bring attention to police brutality and mistreatment of black men. After his criticism, the company received praise from white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.

The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist website, went as far as calling Papa John’s the official pizza of the alt-right. The website also claimed the NFL was “anti-white.” Papa John’s responded by saying, “We condemn racism in all forms and any and all hate groups that support it. We do not want these individuals or groups to buy our pizza.”

There are no plans to remove founder John Schnatter from company communications, which means he may still appear in commercials and on pizza boxes, as he has for years. Papa John’s, and pizza companies, in general, are facing an increase in competition as other fast-food chains have begun to offer home delivery.

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