Papa John's ending role as official NFL sponsor

Pizza Hut new official NFL sponsor

NEW YORK -- Papa John's (PZZA) is ending its recently stormy role as an official sponsor of the NFL.

Officials at the pizza chain said Tuesday that the two sides agreed to end the relationship, which became strained last year when its founder, John Schnatter, criticized NFL leadership over national anthem protests by players.

But the Louisville, Kentucky-based company isn't divorcing itself from the league altogether. It says instead it will focus its football marketing efforts on 22 of the league's 32 teams and its star players.

Papa Johns-CEO
October 2017, file photo shows Papa John's founder and then-CEO John Schnatter  AP

Schnatter blamed slowing sales growth at Papa John's on the outcry surrounding football players kneeling during the national anthem. The company later apologized for the remarks and Schnatter stepped down as CEO at the end of last year.

"NFL leadership has hurt Papa John's shareholders," Schnatter said in a Nov. 1 call with analysts. "This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago."

The kneeling movement was started last year by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled to protest what he said was police mistreatment of black males. More players began kneeling after President Trump said at a fall Alabama rally that team owners should get rid of players who protest during the anthem.