Papa John’s founder John Schnatter will step down as CEO next month, about two months after he publicly criticized the NFL leadership over national anthem protests by football players — comments for which the company later apologized.
Schnatter will be replaced as chief executive by Chief Operating Officer Steve Ritchie on Jan. 1, the company announced Thursday. Schnatter, who appears in the chain’s commercials and on its pizza boxes, and is the company’s biggest shareholder, remains chairman of the board.
Earlier this year, Schnatter blamed slowing sales growth at Papa John’s — an NFL sponsor and advertiser — on the outcry surrounding players kneeling during the national anthem. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had kneeled during the national anthem to protest what he said was police mistreatment of black men, and other players started kneeling as well.
“The controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country,” Schnatter said during a conference call about the company’s earnings on Nov. 1.
Papa John’s apologized two weeks later, after white supremacists praised Schnatter’s comments. The Louisville, Kentucky-based company distanced itself from the group, saying that it did not want them to buy their pizza.
Ritchie declined to say Thursday if the NFL comments played a role in Schnatter stepping down, only saying that it’s “the right time to make this change.”