John Schnatter courted controversy in November after he slammed the NFL and its leadership for allowing players to take a knee during the national anthem.
Today, the Papa John’s CEO, founder, and namesake has announced his plans to step down from his role as CEO.
During the debacle, dozens of millionaire athletes expressed their opposition to President Trump by getting down on one knee as the anthem played, prompting an uproar of public anger—as well as disdain from the president himself, who publicly denounced the players.
The players say they were inspired by Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee while the national anthem played during Obama’s presidency to protest police brutality, but the protest took on a life of its own as a form of resistance to the Trump administration.
“The NFL has hurt us by not resolving the current debacle to the players’ and owners’ satisfaction,” said Schnatter during an investor call, where he blamed the NFL for declining revenues. Papa John’s is a major sponsor of the league.
“Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership,” he said.
Schnatter’s comments inspired backlash from liberals, some of whom accused him of racism for not supporting the movement.
The Papa John’s founder gave $1,000 to Donald Trump’s president campaign, but has not delved into politics—apart from speaking out against government regulation of free enterprise, which he argues is core to American excellence. He shared these sentiments both in the media, and in his 2017 book, Papa: The Story of Papa John’s Pizza.
Despite announcing his plans to step down as CEO in January, Schnatter will retain his 25 percent ownership of the company, and will stay on as its chairman.
A Papa John’s press release states that Schnatter will “pursue his personal passion for entrepreneurship, leadership development, and education.”
Schnatter previously stepped down from his role in 2005 following a declining period of sales. He returned three years later. He might come back yet again.