Papa John’s founder stepping down after criticizing NFL

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Papa John’s Pizza founder, John Schnatter, has made the decision to step down from his position as CEO of the company next month after he publicly criticized NFL leadership over the national anthem protests staged by football players.

On Thursday, the company announced that Schnatter’s role will be taken over by Chief Operating Officer Steve Ritchie on Jan. 1.

Schnatter, the leading spokesman for the company that bears his name, is Papa John’s biggest shareholder and will remain as chairman of the board.

As an NFL sponsor and advertiser, Schnatter blamed his company’s lagging sales on the outcry surrounding players kneeling during the pregame ceremony in a conference call about the company’s earnings on Nov. 1.

The company later apologized for comments he made in which he stated that the controversy, begun by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, was “polarizing the customer, polarizing the country.”

White supremacists then praised Schnatter’s comments, causing the Louisville, Kentucky, based company to say that it did not want such people to buy their pizza.

Shares of Papa John’s company are down approximately 13 percent since the day before the NFL comments were made, reducing the value of Schnatter’s stake in the company by roughly $84 million, according to a report in The Daily Mail.

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 reportedly down 30 percent since the beginning of the year.

Schnatter, 56, founded Papa John’s more than three decades ago. Since then, the chain pizza joint has grown to more than 5,000 locations.

Well-known as the face of Papa John’s, Schnatter has been starring in TV ads for the restaurant with former football player Peyton Manning.

The company hasn’t decided if Schnatter will continue to be its spokesman, Ritchie said, noting that a decision will be made early next year.

Ritchie, 43, began working at a Papa John’s restaurant 21 years ago, making pizzas and answering phones, the company said. In 2006, he bought his first franchise and now owns nine locations. He was named chief operating officer three years ago.

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