Papa John’s founder John Schnatter steps down as CEO weeks after NFL comments

NEW YORK – John Schnatter, the founder of Papa John’s, has stepped down as chief executive officer of the pizza restaurant chain, according to the company.

Schnatter is leaving his role weeks after he publicly criticized NFL leadership over national anthem protests by football players.

Schnatter triggered fierce criticism by saying the pizza chain's sales were hurt by the NFL's handling of the controversy over players kneeling during the national anthem to protest police violence and racial injustice.

"This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago," Schnatter said on a conference call with investors. "The controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country."

Steve Ritchie, 43, has been promoted to the CEO of the company. Ritchie has been with Papa John’s since 2006.

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