Papa John’s CEO blames black athletes for disappointing pizza sales

The proprietor of terrible pizza told shareholders the NFL protests should have been "nipped in the bud" a long time ago.

Papa John's CEO John Schnatter. (Photo by Jack Dempsey via AP Images)
Papa John's CEO John Schnatter. (Photo by Jack Dempsey via AP Images)

During a post-earnings conference call this week, John Schnatter — better known as the CEO (and spokesman) of Papa John’s — told reporters and shareholders that the cause for the company’s lackluster performance in recent months has nothing to do with its food or customer service, but rather the NFL’s handling of the protests during the national anthem.

“The NFL has hurt us by not resolving the current debacle to the players’ and owners’ satisfaction,” he said during the call, according to Bloomberg. “NFL leadership has hurt Papa John’s shareholders.” The NFL came up over 40 times during the conference call.

To even the most casual viewer at home, Schnatter might be among the more recognizable faces during game broadcasts. Papa John’s has been one of the league’s most visible sponsors for years, and Schnatter has made a point of inserting himself into the company’s ad campaigns alongside a rotating cast of NFL stars, most notably Peyton Manning (who retired after the 2015 season and now owns a group of Papa John’s franchises in the Denver area).

Schnatter specifically singled out NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for criticism, suggesting he hasn’t done enough to put a stop to the on-field protests during the national anthem.

“Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership,” said Schnatter, who was last in the news for supposedly drunkenly cavorting with college students after a Louisville basketball game.

Schnatter’s hostility toward the civil rights protest is hardly a surprise given his other conservative tendencies. When the Affordable Care Act went into full effect in 2012, Schnatter threatened to raise prices on the company’s “pizza,” citing the increased cost of providing health care to their workers. Several Papa John’s franchises were subpoenaed in New York City (where even the rats know how to find better pizza) for allegedly underpaying their employees. And in response to First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to introduce healthier food options into schools, Schnatter told Inc. that “Pizza’s really nutritious, it’s good for you.” Notably, he didn’t comment on the nutritional value of the hot cheese circles his chain of fast food restaurants serves.

The popularity of the NFL helped fuel Papa John’s growth in the 2010s, when the company began heavily investing ad dollars into national broadcasts. But when the league’s ratings and popularity began to decline—mostly due to more and more Americans ditching cable packages—Papa John’s fortunes took a turn with it. The company posted disappointing earnings results this week, saying that same store sales grew by just 1 percent, missing analysts’ projections. The company’s stock fell by 13 percent on the news, their worst decline in over two years.

The fast food industry is full of conservative boogeymen. Ronald McDonald has been the poster child (poster clown?) for opposition to a livable wage. Andrew Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants (which owns brands like Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.), was Donald Trump’s pick to serve as Labor Secretary before he withdrew from consideration after video emerged of his former wife accusing him of spousal abuse. Chick-Fil-A faced a national boycott after company’s president came out as a virulent homophobe.

Papa John’s, as it turns out, is really no different.