Papa John’s pizza found itself in the midst of a major political controversy this year. The company also earned itself a questionable reputation in the last few weeks, leading many to wonder why, exactly, people are calling Papa John’s the “official pizza of the alt-right.”
It all started in November, when the CEO of the company, John Schnatter, blamed declining pizza sales on the Take A Knee movement, which saw football stars like Colin Kapernick taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice in America. Schnatter implied that the movement was to blame for NFL ratings slumps, which in turn, hurt pizza sales (because apparently people order pizza while watching football, though there has been no hard evidence to back up any of these correlations).
His full comments read,
“Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership. The NFL has hurt Papa John’s shareholders. This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago. The controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country.”
While many social media users viewed the comments as racially insensitive (because protesting racial injustice is more important than pizza sales), white supremacists had a different reaction. They vowed to make Papa John’s the official pizza of the alt-right and praised the company for the comment. The alt-right’s affinity for Papa John’s also gained fuel from the fact that Papa John’s leadership donated to the Trump campaign and has publicly condemned Obamacare.
However, Papa John’s was quick to respond to the label, saying in an official statement that, “We condemn racism in all forms and any and all hate groups that support it. […] We do not want these individuals or groups to buy our pizza.”
The statements made on our earnings call were describing the factors that impact our business and we sincerely apologize to anyone that thought they were divisive. That definitely was not our intention. (1/3)— Papa John's Pizza (@PapaJohns) November 15, 2017
We believe in the right to protest inequality and support the players’ movement to create a new platform for change. We also believe together, as Americans, we should honor our anthem. There is a way to do both. (2/3)— Papa John's Pizza (@PapaJohns) November 15, 2017
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
Despite Papa John’s disavowal of the alt-right, the label seemed to stick, and the controversy didn’t help sales. On December 21st, it was revealed that Schnatter would be stepping down as CEO as of January 1st, and Twitter users have mixed reactions.
Papa John's founder forced to step down after defending America against NFL National Anthem protesters.— Mark Pantano (@TheMarkPantano) December 21, 2017
Time to boycott this pathetic company.
Buy your pizza elsewhere.
It's BS that Papa John's founder is stepping down because he defended our flag and all that it stands for.— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) December 21, 2017
The ungrateful & entitled players in the NFL wouldn't be able to play their sport if it weren't for the men & women who come home draped under the flag they dishonor.
Schnatter has yet to make an official statement about stepping down from his role.