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Papa John’s backpedals on NFL stance

After slamming the NFL for letting players’ political protests potentially dampen sponsors’ sales, Papa John’s apologized yesterday for appearing insensitive to the racial considerations behind the athletes’ actions.

The pizza chain had accused the NFL of showing “poor leadership” in its failure to resolve a controversy over some players’ refusal to stand during airings of the national anthem. The athletes said they kneeled or sat to protest police brutality against persons of color.

Papa John’s told the investment community that the fallout had hurt viewership of games and cut into pizza sales as a result.

“This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago,” founder and CEO John Schnatter told financial analysts.

No other restaurant chain or NFL sponsor said it had suffered any business impact from the protests, even when asked point blank about the effects by investors.

Meanwhile, media reports of Papa John’s actions led to accusations the chain, and Schnatter in particular, was racist. The operation was blasted for putting sales above social considerations.

The controversy prompted the company to apologize yesterday, two weeks after blasting the NFL. “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,” Papa John’s said on Twitter.

We believe in the right to protest inequality and support the players’ movement to create a new platform for change,” it continued. “We also believe together, as Americans, we should honor our anthem. There is a way to do both.”

The Twittersphere was not receptive. “Subpar apology,” said one poster. “You decided to act in hopes of saving your failing brand,” wrote another. “Won’t help.”

Several comments suggested that the apology didn’t reflect the personal sentiments of Schnatter, who is also the chain’s spokesman and figurehead. “John helped write and endorsed,” Papa John’s tweeted.

The chain promised in the midst of the spirited Twitter thread that more indications of its racial sensitivity were coming, without revealing details.

Papa John's had indicated that fallout from the national anthem controversy was the major factor in its sales slowdown during the third quarter.

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