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Papa John's founder steps down as CEO after criticizing NFL protests

Papa John's founder and CEO John Schnatter is stepping down from his position after criticizing the NFL over the national anthem protests. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

The CEO of Papa John's pizza is stepping down as the CEO, and many believe it's indirectly because of the furor surrounding his criticism of the national anthem protests in the NFL.

The company announced Thursday that John Schnatter would step down on Jan. 1 and be replaced by Chief Operating Officer Steve Ritchie.

What did he say about the NFL?

In November, Schnatter criticized the NFL in a conference call with investors, saying that bad leadership had allowed the national anthem protests to continue and divide the pizza-maker's customers.

“The NFL has hurt Papa John’s shareholders. The controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country," he said. “The NFL has hurt us. We are disappointed the NFL and its leadership did not resolve this.

"Leadership starts at the top and this is an example of poor leadership," he concluded.

Papa John's had closely linked its marketing to the NFL, and calls itself "the official pizza" of the sports behemoth. After the protests damaged the reputation of the sport, Papa John's cut some of its advertising during NFL games.

What was the reaction?

The company backtracked on Schnatter's comments after many from the far right and "alt-right" praised the comments, and began calling Papa John's the "official pizza" of the "alt-right."

Papa John's subsequently rejected outright the support from racialist groups.

“We believe in the right to protest inequality and support the players’ movement to create a new platform for change. We also believe together, as Americans, we should honor our anthem," a statement from the company read. "There is a way to do both.”

“We will work with the players and league to find a positive way forward. Open to ideas from all. Except neo-Nazis — [middle finger emoji] those guys," the statement concluded.

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