LOS ANGELES: A leading sponsor of the National Football League attacked commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday for his handling of the national anthem controversy.
John Schnatter, the founder and chief executive of the Papa John’s pizza chain, told a conference call he believed the furore over protests during the anthem had hurt sales of his pizzas.
“The NFL has hurt us,” said Schnatter. “We are disappointed the NFL and its leadership did not resolve this.”
The NFL has been embroiled in controversy this season following a widespread protest by players last month during the national anthem following criticism by President Donald Trump.
Trump triggered an outcry from players, teams and league officials after referring to any athlete who kneels during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to draw attention to racial injustice as a “son of a bitch” who should be fired.
The protest movement was launched by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016. Kaepernick refused to stand for the anthem in protest at a series of deaths of African-American men at the hands of law enforcement.
Trump has kept up his criticism of the NFL, calling on the body to introduce a rule forcing players to stand. The league has refused to issue a hard policy on the anthem, saying only that it would prefer players to stand.
Schnatter, a donor to Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 and an outspoken critic of his predecessor Barack Obama, said the anthem issue had divided the country.
“The controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country,” Schnatter said.
“Good or bad, leadership starts at the top and this is an example of poor leadership,” Schnatter said in prepared remarks clearly aimed at Goodell.
“This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago. Like many sponsors, we’re in touch with the NFL.
“Once the issue is resolved, we’re optimistic the NFL’s best years are ahead.”
Papa John’s president and chief operating officer, Steve Ritchie, said the NFL deal was the main reason behind the company’s decline in sales.
“We expect it to persist unless a solution is put in place,” Ritchie said.
Wall Street reacted negatively to Papa John’s latest set of results, with stock in the company plunging by nearly nine percent on Wednesday.