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Papa John’s founder John Schnatter is stepping down from his role as the pizza company’s CEO weeks after criticizing the NFL for its handling of the national anthem protests.
Schnatter had blamed slow pizza sales on the national anthem protests by NFL players, saying in a Nov. 1 earnings call that “NFL leadership has hurt Papa John’s shareholders” and that the protests “should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago.”
BREAKING: Papa John's announces founder John Schnatter, who caused a stir with his comments about NFL players & anthem, is out as CEO. Will now serve as chairman.— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) December 21, 2017
Papa John’s Chief Operating Officer Steve Ritchie, who will take over for Schnatter, declined to say if the November comments led to the move announced Thursday. Schnatter will still serve as chairman of the board for the company.
Advertisers have threatened to pull their advertising from the NFL in the wake of the politically charged national anthem protests, but none have taken as drastic a move as Papa John’s.
The company last month apologized for Schnatter’s comments in a statement, saying, “The statements made on our earnings call were describing the factors that impact our business and we sincerely apologize to anyone that thought they were divisive. That definitely was not our intention.”
We believe in the right to protest inequality and support the players’ movement to create a new platform for change. We also believe together, as Americans, we should honor our anthem. There is a way to do both. (2/3)— Papa John's Pizza (@PapaJohns) November 15, 2017
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first started kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner” last year to protest police violence against minorities. The protest got mixed reactions, but other NFL players -- and players in other sports -- have since followed Kaepernick’s lead to protest inequality.
President Donald Trump in September suggested that NFL team owners should fire players who refuse to stand during the anthem, telling a crowd in Alabama that “that’s a total disrespect for our heritage.”
The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.