Papa John’s apologizes for blaming NFL player protests for its poor sales

Pizza chain and NFL sponsor Papa John’s International Inc. apologized Tuesday night for its chief executive’s comments during an earnings call last month blaming poor sales on NFL player protests.

“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,” the company said in a series of tweets. “We believe in the right to protest inequality and support the players’ movement to create a new platform for change.”

On Nov. 1, founder and CEO John Schnatter blamed the NFL for his company’s poor performance, as same-store sales missed analysts’ estimates.

“The NFL has hurt us by not resolving the current debacle to the players’ and owners’ satisfaction,” Schnatter said, according to Bloomberg News. “NFL leadership has hurt Papa John’s shareholders. . . . This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago.”

The NFL has been mired in controversy this season as protests that began with quarterback Colin Kaepernick last year have grown. At the movement’s peak earlier this seasons, hundreds of players protested police brutality and systemic racism by taking a knee during the national anthem, sparking outrage from many fans, team owners and President Donald Trump.

That last sentence of the tweet refers to the pizza chain’s disavowal of racists. After Schnatter’s earnings-call comments, the white supremacist website The Daily Stormer dubbed Papa John’s the “official pizza of the alt-right,” forcing Papa John’s to repudiate hate groups and say neo-Nazis were not welcome there.

Replying to comments to its tweets Tuesday, Papa John’s said Schnatter “helped write and endorsed the post.”

Shares of Papa John’s PZZA, +1.14%   are down more than 16% in the past month, and are off almost 31% year to date, compared to the S&P 500’s SPX, -0.23%   1% and 15% gains, respectively, in those periods.

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