John Schnatter, founder of Papa John's International and basher of NFL protests and the Affordable Care Act, will step down as chief executive weeks after the brand was coined the "official pizza of the alt-right."
The company announced Thursday that Chief Operating Officer Steve Ritchie will succeed Schnatter, who is still the chairman of the board, on Jan. 1. Ritchie declined to say if the NFL comments led to Schnatter stepping down, only saying that it's "the right time to make this change," according to the Louisville Courier Journal.
Schnatter, who in 2012 threatened to cut workers' hours and raise the price of pizza because of Obamacare, blamed NFL leadership for the 24 percent drop in Papa John's stock price this year.
"We are totally disappointed that the NFL and its leadership did not resolve the ongoing situation to the satisfaction of all parties long ago," he said in a call with investors on Nov. 1. "This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago."
"Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership," he added.
Schnatter was criticizing the NFL players, who are mostly Black, kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality, which was first initiated by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
"The controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country," he said.
Schnatter shares the same perspective as President Donald Trump, who said that an NFL team owner's reaction to a protesting player should be to "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now." Their likeness in opinion is not surprising as Schnatter donated to Trump's presidential campaign.
In 2010, Papa John's began its partnership with the NFL and has "'Preferred Pizza' partnerships with 23 NFL teams," according to Business Insider. The company signed a multi-year partnership with the Super Bowl and the NFL in 2016.
'Official Pizza of the Alt-Right'
The Daily Stormer is a website "dedicated to spreading anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism, and white nationalism," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Following Schnatter's comments bashing the NFL for not cracking down on Black players, a blog post on the website that included a photo of pizza with pepperonis arranged in a swastika has a caption that reads, "Papa John: Official pizza of the alt-right?"
"This might be the first time ever in modern history that a major institution is going to be completely destroyed explicitly because of public outrage over their anti-White agenda," Adrian Sol wrote.
It's not a good look when your product is endorsed like this.
In a recent column, DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti offered tips on what CEOs like Schnatter should have done to avoid product endorsements by neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
"Avoid taking grand public stances on diversity when you don't have the accomplishments to back up the publicity grab," Visconti wrote. "Google your company name and senior leadership. Mostly/all white? Only men in P&L positions?
"Be quiet or you're going to sound like the red-faced guy at every football stadium yelling 'advice' to the coach. Papa John stock is underperforming the DJIA by more than 50 percentage points over the past 12 months."
Papa John's becoming the alt-right pizza of choice was soon disavowed by the company.
"We condemn racism in all forms and any and all hate groups that support it," the company said in a statement. "We do not want these individuals or groups to buy our pizza."
And the company tweeted:
We will work with the players and league to find a positive way forward. Open to ideas from all. Except neo-nazis — 🖕those guys. (3/3)
— Papa John's Pizza (@PapaJohns) November 15, 2017
But by then, the damage had already been done and Schnatter's days as the face of the brand were numbered.
"Condemn us all you want, but we will continue to buy your pizza to support your struggle against the politically correct agenda," Matthew Heimbach, chairman of the white nationalist Traditionalist Workers Party, told The Washington Post in November. "We have to prove that we are a reliable economic, social, and political bloc within American politics."
Devin Burghart, a researcher at the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights who specializes in the alt-right, said that when neo-Nazis endorse products, they succeed in giving the impression that they have mainstream allies.
"The endorsements create some legitimacy for [them] because it ties them to brands that are popular with people," Burghart told Newsweek.
"And it's also a way to create distinctions between the alt-right and the so-called 'normies.'"
The Louisville Courier Journal reports that since the day before the NFL comments were made, shares of Papa John's are down about 13 percent, "reducing the value of Schnatter's stake in the company by nearly $84 million."