Football (illustration)
Football (illustration)Thinkstock

Pizza chain Papa John's announced Wednesday that they will pull all their NFL-related ads due to NFL players ongoing refusal to stand for the national anthem. Papa John's says that their association with the NFL was causing "negative consumer sentiment" and hurting sales.

A significant percentage of NFL players have been refusing to stand for the national anthem to protest what they claimed was police brutality. While the protests were started by former NFL star Colin Kaepernick last year they became widespread after President Trump bashed football players who kneel during the national anthem at a campaign rally in early September.

Papa John's decision to pull drop its once-lucrative sponsorship deal with the NFL comes a day after ESPN reported that the franchise was furious with the league for mishandling the issue.

"The NFL has hurt us," company founder and CEO John Schnatter told ESPN. "We are disappointed the NFL and its leadership did not resolve this. Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership."

"This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago," Schnatter said. "The controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country".

Papa John's president and chief operating officer Steve Ritchie had announced a significant decline in the company's profits over the last economic quarters and blamed the NFL for its weakened earnings. "We expect it to persist unless a solution is put in place," said Ritchie, continuing to say that Papa John's association with the NFL made it a strong target for fans angry at the NFL.

The anthem protests have seriously hurt the NFL's bottom line executives had struggled to reverse the tide of empty seats, declining ratings, and panicked sponsors that have become a consistent problem for the league. "There is no question the league is suffering negative effects from these protests," Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said last week, who had previously threatened to bench any player who refused to stand for the anthem.

“I care about a lot of things,” Jones said. “But our ability to be substantive is based on having a strong NFL, a league that people are really interested in and want to watch games. At all times, if I am anything, I am first and foremost a proponent of making the NFL strong. Making us have as many people watching the game as we can and watching in light of what we are doing and that's playing football."