The founder of Papa John’s International will step down as CEO next month, handing over the company less than two months after his controversial remarks about national anthem protests by NFL football players, for which the company later apologized.

John Schnatter, who is featured on Papa John’s pizza boxes and in the chain’s commercials, will be replaced by Chief Operating Officer Steve Ritchie on Jan. 1, the company announced Thursday. Schnatter, 56, is still the company’s biggest shareholder and will continue to serve as chairman of the board.

In November, Schnatter sparked outrage by blaming sagging sales at Papa John’s – a top sponsor and advertiser of the NFL – on the league’s “poor leadership” in response to the national anthem demonstrations. He said the practice of players kneeling during the anthem to raise awareness of police brutality and social injustice hurt the NFL’s TV ratings, which in turn hurt the sales of his pizza, which is heavily advertised during games.

Schnatter said the protests could have been stopped by the NFL back when Colin Kaepernick began doing it during preseason games in the summer of 2016. This September, President Trump called on NFL owners to fire players who did not stand for the anthem, and sparked a divisive national conversation with repeated attacks on the NFL and its players, some of whom continued to kneel.

“Like many sponsors, we are in contact with the NFL and once the issue is resolved between the players and the owners, we are optimistic that the NFL’s best years are ahead,” Schnatter said, according to “But good or bad, leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership.”

Ritchie could not be immediately reached for comment.

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