John Schnatter, the founder and CEO of Papa John’s, has abruptly resigned just weeks after he made comments about NFL anthem protests that led a top neo-Nazi website to declare it the official pizza company of the alt-right.
The company confirmed on Thursday that Steve Ritchie, formerly the company’s Chief Operating Officer, has been promoted to Chief Executive Officer in a news release, but declined to give a reason for Schnatter’s sudden ouster as CEO.
“I am so proud of Steve – he has excelled at every job he’s ever held at Papa John’s – from being an hourly customer service rep, to a delivery driver, store general manager, director of operations, franchisee and most recently President,” Schnatter said in the press release.
“With 120,000 Papa John’s corporate and franchise employees, Steve will put the spotlight on our pizza and the most important ingredient – our team members. We couldn’t have a more proven leader to guide Papa John’s through its next stage of growth.”
Schnatter claimed last month that ongoing player protests during the national anthem have hurt sales.
“The NFL has hurt us by not resolving the current debacle to the players’ and owners’ satisfaction,” Schnatter, who serves as the pizza chain’s chairman and chief executive officer, said on a conference call. “NFL leadership has hurt Papa John’s shareholders.”
Schnatter’s comments prompted the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer to declare Papa John’s the official pizza of the alt-right.
“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,” Peter Collins, the company’s senior director of public relations, told The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky.
NFL players began kneeling during the national anthem more than a year ago — starting with a protest against racial inequality and police brutality by
Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, began kneeling during the national anthem more than a year ago to protest racial inequality and police brutality.
His action soon spread across the NFL and got new life last month after Trump began criticizing the players and calling on fans to boycott the NFL if the league didn’t crack down on protests. Vice President Mike Pence left an Indianapolis Colts game after San Francisco 49ers’ players took a knee during the anthem.
After meeting with team owners, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell decided not to force players to stand for the national anthem, a move which appears to have angered Schnatter.
“This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago,” Schnatter, who founded the company in 1984, said on the call. “Like many sponsors, we’re in touch with the NFL. Once the issue is resolved, we’re optimistic the NFL’s best years are ahead.”
In 2012, Schnatter warned that President Obama’s health care law would cause the price of pizza to go up.
Schnatter also donated to Trump’s campaign and has railed against government regulations.
The NFL may be part of the problems Papa John’s faces, but it’s far from the only one. The stock is down 24% this year, while competitors including Domino’s (DPZ) have performed well (Domino’s stock is up 12% this year).
It’s hard to quantify the connection between the NFL and pizza sales, but Papa John’s did post disappointing results in the latest quarter. Its shares fell as much as 13 percent on Wednesday — the most in two years — after same-store sales missed analysts’ estimates. The Louisville, Kentucky-based company also trimmed its revenue and profit forecasts for the year.