John Schnatter Is Out As CEO Of Papa John’s After Criticizing NFL Player Protests Hurt Pizza Sales

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A major shake up is happening within Papa John’s, as its founder is stepping away from the company. John Schnatter, who founded the company in 1984 and is famous for being the public face of the chain pizza empire, will no longer serve as Papa John’s CEO. The news was announced on Thursday afternoon.

While he is losing one of his titles, Schnatter will stay with the company as its chairman of the board.

Schnatter made headlines earlier this year for a statement he made on a conference call regarding declining sales. While most would theorize that sales going down means people were no longer as fond of the pizza, Schnatter had another theory, saying that the company was suffering due to its ties to the NFL.

Specifically, Schnatter said that the decision to protest police brutality and racial inequality by NFL players was hurting the company and “should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago.” It led to a firestorm of controversy regarding the company and its founder.

The chief operating officer of Papa John’s, Steve Ritchie, will fill in for Schnatter. He would not, however, confirm or deny whether the NFL comments played any role in his decision to resign, per the Associated Press.

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.”

Shares of Papa John’s are down about 13 percent since the day before the NFL comments were made, reducing the value of Schnatter’s stake in the company by nearly $84 million. Schnatter owns nearly 9.5 million shares of Papa John’s International Inc., and his total stake was valued at more than $560 million on Thursday, according to FactSet. The company’s stock is down 30 percent since the beginning of the year.

It’s a rough day for Papa John’s, but one of their competitors in the pizza market, DiGiorno, sent out a rather cryptic tweet that seemed to comment on Schnatter’s decision to step aside.