John Schnatter, the founder and CEO of the pizza chain Papa John's, is stepping down from his position after he made comments about NFL protests during the national anthem that sparked a wave of white supremacist support for the brand.

The pizza chain confirmed that the company will promote Steve Ritchie to chief executive officer  in a news release, but did not give a reason for Schnatter's ouster as CEO.


Ritchie, formerly the company's chief operating officer, joined the company as a customer service representative before rising through the ranks and becoming a franchisee in 2006.

"I am so proud of Steve — he has excelled at every job he's ever held at Papa John's — from being an hourly customer service rep, to a delivery driver, store general manager, director of operations, franchisee and most recently President," Schnatter said in the press release.

"With 120,000 Papa John's corporate and franchise employees, Steve will put the spotlight on our pizza and the most important ingredient — our team members. We couldn't have a more proven leader to guide Papa John's through its next stage of growth," he said.

Schnatter will remain on the company's board as chairman and founder, but will have a reduced role in the restaurant chain he founded in 1984.

The former CEO made headlines in November when he said during a press call that the NFL hurt their sales by refusing to address players who protested during the national anthem. 

The comments drew praise from white nationalists online, prompting an apology and a condemnation of such beliefs from a company spokesman.

“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 statement on Twitter. “That definitely was not our intention.”

“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,” added Peter Collins, the company’s senior director of public relations.