If you take "Papa John" Schnatter's word for it, blame for the poor performance of his eponymous pizza chain falls squarely at the knees of protesting footballers.
"This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago,” Schnatter, a Trump donor, said at the beginning of a quarterly earnings call with Wall Street analysts.
“Like many sponsors, we are in contact with the NFL. Once the issue is resolved between the players and the owners, we are optimistic that the NFL’s best years are ahead." Referencing NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, he continued: "But good or bad, leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership."
Schnattner's complaint originates with the movement that began in 2016 when Colin Kaepernick – then a San Francisco 49ers quarterback – began sitting and, later, kneeling during the national anthem to protest police shootings of unarmed black men in the U.S. His gesture has since been copied by numerous athletes.
Explaining the connection between kneeling athletes and the slump in pizza sales, Schnatter said: "You need to look at exactly how the ratings are going backwards. Last year the ratings for the NFL went backwards because of the elections. This year the ratings are going backwards because of the controversy. And so, the controversy is polarizing the customer; polarizing the country."
The response from social media was withering, with many users claiming the blame lies with the pizzas sold by Papa John's. The pizza chain, claim company executives, is one of TV's biggest-spending NFL advertisers.
“The only time Papa Johns should be eaten is when youre at a multilevel marketing scheme meeting,” tweeted HPJ Art.
Another user, Tariq Nasheed, posted: “Papa Johns is blaming its poor sales on Black NFL players. Maybe your sales are down because your pizzas taste like Sarah Sander's flip flops,”
Another critic tweeted: "#papajohns blamed the #NFL for its stock loss. In related news, Papa John finally tasted his own 'pizza' and took it all back."
Executives at the pizza chain declined to divulge any details supporting the claims of their CEO.