Dec 21 (Reuters) - Papa John's International founder John Schnatter will step down as chief executive by the year-end, the pizza chain operator said on Thursday, weeks after his comments on the NFL leadership drew criticism.
The company said Chief Operating Officer Steve Ritchie will succeed Schnatter, who is also the chairman of the board.
Schnatter, 56, who founded the company in 1984, came under fire in November after he criticized the National Football League's leadership over national anthem protests by players.
"The NFL has hurt us. And more importantly, by not resolving the current debacle to the player and owners' satisfaction, NFL leadership has hurt Papa John's shareholders," Schnatter had said during the company's third-quarter earnings call on Nov. 1.
The comments generated huge backlash on social media, prompting the company to tweet an apology for Schnatter's comments.
Papa John's has been the official pizza provider of the NFL since 2010.
Ritchie, 43, started with Papa John's 21 years ago as a customer service representative. He was made COO in 2014 and president in 2015.
Shares of the Louisville, Kentucky- based pizza chain are down over 30 percent this year.
Reporting by Vibhuti Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila