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Papa John's founder steps down as CEO weeks after National Football League comments

Papa John's founder steps down as CEO weeks after National Football League comments

John Schnatter, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Papa John's International, Inc., with a display of pizzas to celebrate the grand opening of Papa John's 4000th restaurant on Friday Sept. 14, 2012, in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

For investors, the concern is that a CEO change won't be enough to reverse a slowdown in same-store sales.

Shares of Papa John's are still down 13 percent from when the National Football League feud began and have plummeted 30 percent overall this year.

As the founder, Schnatter has been one of the biggest names in fast food.

Industry insiders were caught off guard by Schnatter's decision.

John Schnatter, founder & Pres. of a chain of Papa John's pizza restaurants, tossing dough in the air in the kitchen of one of his 1,049 outlets, as he prepares a pizza.

The company gave no reason for the change, but it comes after the public relations disaster when Schnatter shared his thoughts about players who took a knee during the national anthem to protest the treatment of black Americans, particularly by police. Though the executive will continue to focus on product quality and customer satisfaction, he also plans to pursue "his personal passion for entrepreneurship, leadership development and education", Papa John's said. The company will promote longtime employee and former president Steve Ritchie to the position of CEO. He is being replaced as CEO by company president Steve Ritchie.

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As he takes the helm on January 1, he'll have to cope with slowing growth.

In a conference call with shareholders in November, he claimed that the protests were taking a large bite out of the company's sales.

Schnatter, 56, founded Papa John's more than 30 years ago, turning a broom closet at his father's bar into a pizza spot.

"The NFL has hurt us", Schnatter said.

Goodell critics have said that he should force players to stand for the anthem.

"The controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country", Schnatter said during a conference call about the company's earnings on November 1.

"We believe in the right to protest inequality and support the players' movement to create a new platform for change".

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