‘Papa John’ Stepping Down as Pizza Chain CEO Following NFL Anthem Protest Comments

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John Schnatter, the Papa John’s pizza chain founder and CEO, announced that he is stepping down from his position with the company. Recent comments he made regarding the NFL national anthem protests backfired against, leading the brand to receive a wave of public support from white supremacist groups. Schnatter’s exit was confirmed in a press release.

While the announcement didn’t explicitly state why Schnatter was leaving the company, it did say that Steve Ritchie, the chain’s former chief operating officer, will be promoted into the CEO role, reported The Hill.

Ritchie originally joined the company in a customer service representative role, working his way up the ladder before becoming a franchisee in 2006.

In the press release, Schnatter stated, “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.”

“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,” Schnatter continued. “We couldn’t have a more proven leader to guide Papa John’s through its next stage of growth.”

Schnatter will continue in his position as a board chairman for the pizza chain, but will otherwise have a reduced role within the company.

The former CEO made national news in November after he made comments during a press call asserting that the NFL was harming the chain by not addressing NFL player protests during the national anthem.

After the comments became widely available, they were praised by white supremacist groups online, leading the company to issue an apology and a condemnation of those beliefs through a spokesman.

“The statements made on our earnings call were describing the factors that impact our business and we sincerely apologize to anyone that thought they were divisive,” said the statement that was released on Twitter. “That was definitely not our intention.”

“We condemn racism in all forms and any and all hate groups that support it,” said Papa John’s senior director of public relations Peter Collins. “We do not want these individuals or groups to buy our pizza.”