Papa John's CEO John Schnatter steps down weeks after wading into NFL anthem controversy

Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter is stepping down from his position, the company announced Thursday. He will be replaced on Jan. 1 by COO Steve Ritchie. Schnatter will remain chairman of the board.

Schnatter’s face is a fixture to TV-watching sports fans; he is best-known for peddling his pizza on Sunday TV spots featuring Peyton Manning and J.J. Watt.

Schnatter’s resignation comes weeks after he courted controversy by blaming the NFL’s handling of players protesting social injustice who take a knee during the national anthem for falling sales and tanking stock prices. Papa John’s stock has lost more than 30 percent of its value since the beginning of 2017.

“The NFL has hurt us by not resolving the current debacle to the players’ and owners’ satisfaction,” Schnatter said on a company conference call in November reported by Bloomberg. “NFL leadership has hurt Papa John’s shareholders. Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership.”

Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter is stepping down weeks after courting NFL controversy. (AP)
Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter is stepping down weeks after courting NFL controversy. (AP)

Papa John’s apologized via Twitter in the aftermath of stock prices that fell a further 13 percent in the wake of Schnatter’s comments. His words evidently made an impact on white supremacists who voiced their support of the pizza chain, which was addressed via the tweets that Schnatter reportedly helped craft.

Schnatter’s statements drew speculation at the time that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones may have played a role. Jones has been a hardline opponent of the anthem protests, going as far as threatening to bench players who kneeled during the national anthem.

Jones also owns more than 100 Papa John’s franchises.

“The main thing I want to do is make it real clear. There is no room here,” Jones said after an October Cowboys game. “If it comes between looking non-supportive of our players and of each other or creating the impression that you’re disrespecting the flag, we will be non-supportive of each other. We will not disrespect the flag.

“If there is anything disrespecting the flag, then we will not play. Period. We’re going to respect the flag and I’m going to create the perception of it.”

Jones went on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas praising Schnatter as “one of the great Americans” after his statements regarding NFL player protests.

“When he speaks, I listen,” Jones said.