Papa John’s Pizza Founder Steps Down, Blamed NFL Protests For Sagging Sales

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Papa John’s founder John Schnatter is doing a take-out on his job as CEO.

Two months after he claimed that sagging sales at the Louisville, KY-based pizza chain was attributed to fan disenchantment with National Football League player protests during the national anthem, Schnatter is stepping down as of next month.

Schnatter’s comments — which some claimed he was goaded into by his friend, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, as a way to increase pressure on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell — caused an uproar upon delivery. Jones was angling to have Goodell removed as commissioner. Goodell has since signed a contract extension worth $200 million.

“The controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country,” Schnatter said during a November 1 conference call about the company’s earnings. The remarks were construed as anti-black in some quarters, since the protesters were predominantly African-American, and the company later apologized.

Ritchie declined to state that the NFL comments played a role in Schnatter’s leave, stating only that it’s “the right time to make this change.” Whether Schnatter will continue as spokesman has not been decided, Ritchie said.

The pizza chain has seen its stock price decline about 13 percent since the remarks were made and down about 30 percent since the beginning of 2017. That has reduced Schnatter’s 9.5 million share stake in the  company by nearly $84 million.

Schnatter founded Papa John’s more than 30 years ago, turning a broom closet at his father’s bar into a pizza spot. The company now has more than 5,000 locations.

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