Papa John’s is a popular food choice for Ball State students. 

“I love the Papa John’s on campus,” senior Ben Martinez said. “I eat it at least twice a week.” 

It is normal to see a lengthy line of students waiting in the Atrium of the Art and Journalism building just for a Papa John’s pizza. But in recent months, the pizza giant has lost popularity around the nation. According to the New York Daily News, the company’s stock fell 12 percent since company founder and chief executive officer, John Schnatter, yet again made controversial comments.

In November, Schnatter, publicly blamed the National Football League and national anthem protests for causing his personal net worth to fall $70 million. His net worth now stands at $801 million, Forbes estimates. Papa John’s has been the official pizza sponsor of the NFL and Super Bowl since 2010. 

“Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership. The NFL has hurt Papa John’s shareholders,” Schnatter said. “This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago. The controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country.” 

Schnatter’s comment refers to a protest sparked by former San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick started the protest by first sitting and later kneeling during the national anthem. He credited police brutality for inspiring the protest. Kaepernick hasn’t quarterbacked for an NFL team since being released by the 49ers. His efforts caused many players across the league to follow in his lead. In turn, people on both sides of the protest debate have boycotted the NFL. 

Schnatter’s comments prompted white supremacist groups to dub Papa John’s the official pizza of white supremacy. This did further harm to the companies reputation  

The company tried to smooth over Schnatter’s words by releasing a statement saying that the CEO didn’t meant to come off sounding divisive. The company went as far as denouncing white supremacist by tweeting a middle finger emoji directed toward the group. 

Since then, Papa John’s stock has fell 13 percent to $58 per share.

Despite the controversy, the Ball State Papa John’s still draws long lines of students throughout each day. Have Ball State students been unaffected by the comments or have some turned their backs on Papa John’s? 

Ball State student Travis Kirkman doesn’t see a problem with Schnatter’s comments. He also doesn’t see a problem with the national anthem protests. Kirkman believes Schnatter can say what he wants and risk public criticism. He occasionally eats at Papa John’s in the Atrium, though he wouldn’t go out of his way to get it off campus. 

Ben Martinez believes Schnatter was using the NFL protests to rationalize his sudden and substantial loss of profits. Despite his love for Papa John’s pizza, he thinks this is a cheap tactic. Martinez doesn’t really have a problem with the protests, but says the meaning can be lost in translation. He thinks that some players use the protests to get their 15 minutes of fame. 

Ball State sophomore Nick Branigan said he didn’t see Schnatter’s comments. But he acknowledges the protests could cause fewer people to eat at Papa John’s and watch the NFL. He avoids Papa John’s but not because of the protests. He would rather choose healthier food options. 

Ball State would not provide information regarding Papa John’s annual sales. 

In December, Schnatter, a graduate of Ball State, stepped down as Papa John’s CEO. He will remain chairman of the board. Former Papa John’s Chief Operating Officer, Steve Ritchie, took over as Papa John’s CEO on January 1. 

Schnatter founded the pizza company after selling his 1971 Camaro Z/28 to purchase pizza equipment. In only 6 years Papa John’s had over 100 locations. 

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