BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Freedom of speech? Pizza sales? Freedom of speech? Pizza sales? For John Schnatter, founder and CEO of Papa John's International Inc., the hell with freedom of speech when business is down 8.5 percent. In 2010, Schnatter, a significant donor to President Donald Trump, a combatant in the administration's war against government regulations, and a vigorous critic of Obamacare, paid enough money to have his pizza designated the official pizza of the NFL. He is also the seemingly happy-go-lucky guy hamming it up in commercials alongside former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning. And to top it all off, Papa John's has been designated the "official pizza of the alt-right," a claim it quickly and vigorously distanced itself from.
Schnatter knows whose to blame for the pizza dip; NFL players protesting police brutality and racial injustice, and the feeble response by NFL owners and commissioner Roger Goodell. If it was up to Schnatter, the protest "should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago."
"The NFL has hurt us by not resolving the current debacle to the players' and owners' satisfaction," Schnatter, the company's CEO said on a conference call, according to Bloomberg News. "NFL leadership has hurt Papa John's shareholders."
According to Bloomberg News, "It's hard to quantify the connection between the NFL and pizza sales, but Papa John's did post disappointing results in the latest quarter. … [as] [i]ts shares fell as much as 13 percent … -- the most in two years -- after same-store sales missed analysts' estimates." The company, which is headquartered in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, a suburb of Louisville, and is the third largest take-out and pizza delivery restaurant chain in the United States, "trimmed its revenue and profit forecasts for the year."
At the same time, Sports Illustrated's Jack Dickey pointed out that "[p]olling shows that Papa John's is the league's most recognized sponsorship."
After Schnatter's condemnatory remarks, The Daily Stormer, the notorious neo-Nazi/alt-right/white nationalist website, declared Papa John's the alt-right's official pizza. The company was subsequently forced to issue a statement maintaining that it doesn't want to be the pizza of the alt-right: "We condemn racism in all forms and any and all hate groups that support it," Peter Collins, the senior director of public relations at Papa John's, said in a statement. "We do not want these individuals or groups to buy our pizza."
Salon's Matthew Rozsa recently reported that "The website's position was visually reinforced with an image of a pizza with a swastika in the center, as well as an opinion piece by writer Adrian Sol. 'This might be the first time ever in modern history that a major institution is going to be completely destroyed explicitly because of public outrage over their anti-white agenda,' Sol wrote in The Daily Stormer."
"Papa John: Official pizza of the alt-right?" Sol wondered.
CBSsports.com's Will Brinson reported that Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys who threatened to bench any player kneeling during the national anthem, is a big supporter of Schnatter. Jones – who owns over 100 Papa John's franchises -- appeared on G-Bag Nation on 105.3 the Fan, a CBS Sports Radio station, and called Schnatter "one of the great Americans," also saying, "When he speaks, I listen."
"He's the story of America. He started off in his dad's bar just doing pizza with a little oven or microwave, and he's built that thing into one of the great businesses.
… Papa John's was named as the product most associated with the NFL, and it was named that a year ago by a survey of our viewers. So he is quite an American story. He was not cavalier about showing he's got data. ... So when he speaks, I listen."
Brinson also pointed out that "There is a pretty good argument to be made that Papa John's stock was already declining before anyone started kneeling for the anthem."
This isn't Schnatter's first foray into politics: In 2012, he "came under fire in 2012 for saying that the Affordable Care Act could be "lose-lose" for Papa John's franchisees and employees," Business Insider's Kate Taylor pointed out. "Schnatter argued that Obamacare would cost Papa John's $5-8 million annually and ultimately drive up the price of pizza."
The San Francisco Chronicle's Scott Ostler recently dipped into Schnatter's autobiography, Papa: The Story of Papa John's Pizza, in which Papa John writes: "If you believed the wrong thing, the government attacked you. … If you dared go against the whims and wishes of society's rulers, the government beheaded you."
In other words, writes Ostler, "They nipped you in the bud."