The founder of the American restaurant franchise company, Papa John’s International Inc., John Schnatter is reportedly stepping down as the company’s CEO next month, more than a month after a few comments he made last month about the national anthem protests by National Football League players led to accusations of racism and the official endorsement of the ALT-right.

In November, Schnatter sparked outrage by blaming slowing sales growth of the company on the league’s “poor leadership” in response to the national anthem demonstrations.

The pizza chain announced that Schnatter will officially be replaced on the first day of the new year by the company’s Chief Operating Officer, Steve Ritchie. Schnatter, who owns roughly 25 percent of the company, will stay as the chairman of the board.

Colin Kaepernick, a former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, had begun the national anthem kneeling position to indicate his protest against the maltreatment of black people by the police. However, hundreds of players started kneeling after President Donald Trump insisted team players to eliminate players who protest during the anthem.

Papa John’s, which is a major sponsor and advertiser of the NFL, said the practice of players kneeling down during the national anthem as well as plummeting NFL TV ratings affected the sales of its pizza. It also added that customers have a negative interpretation of the chain’s relationship with the NFL.


“NFL leadership has hurt Papa John’s shareholders. This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago,” Schantter said.

The company later apologized for the comments, which had sparked praise from white supremacists.

The soon-to-be CEO, Ritchie, did not particularly say if the remarks had something to do with the timing of the transition.

Ritchie joined the pizza biz in 1996, earning $6 an hour as a Papa John’s customer service representative. In 2006, he became a Papa John’s franchise owner and operator. He started serving in increasing capabilities of leadership in operations in  2010 until being promoted to COO in 2014. He was added to the succession plan for Papa John’s top job in 2015 when he was named President.

He said that “all of the PR things have been quite a distraction,” and said, amid the controversy, he wants “to put the focus back on our people and pizza.”

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