Making Pizza

Pizza & Politics: Papa John – Metaphor for America

BOSTON — John Schnatter, (now former) CEO of pizza chain Papa Johns, blamed declining sales on NFL anthem protests during the company’s quarterly earnings report. Papa John’s ($PZZA) trading fell by as much as 12%, losing about $70 million in value.

In a thinly veiled shot at commissioner Roger Goodell, Schnatter argued that the issue “should have been nipped in the bud” a year and a half ago, when Colin Kaeperinck first started to protest during the national anthem.

He went on to say that “once the issue is resolved” that he is “optimistic the NFL’s best years are ahead.” Papa John’s also announced they would be removing the NFL logo from all advertising campaigns in an attempt to distance themselves from the league and the protests, which he stated is “polarizing the customer, polarizing the country”.

Schnatter, an outspoken supporter of President Trump, is no stranger to mixing pizza and politics.

In 2012 he was criticized for comments made about the Affordable Care Act to an entrepreneurship class and the University of Louisville, saying it’s bad for business because it would add $0.14 to the total cost of making a pizza.

This, coming from a self-proclaimed “universal healthcare buff” that also owns an $8 million mansion in Louisville, KY, a $6 million apartment in Naples, FL, and a $23 million private ski resort in Utah.

Affordable Care Act

He went on to say “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”.

Here’s another gem from his 2016 memoir/manifesto “Papa: The Story of Papa John’s Pizza”, where he claimed the United States is becoming like “19th century Germany”:

“If you believed the wrong thing, the government attacked you. If you became successful, the government took your money. And if you dared go against the whims and will of society’s rulers, the government beheaded you.”

Wallowing about the plight of the persecuted billionaire businessman and shaming people standing up for their rights who are actually getting attacked by the government is pure, unadulterated Trumpism.

Schnatter knows that the only way to get anything meaningful done in Trump’s America is a series of headline-grabbing, factually dubious broadside shots at whatever is getting your goat at that exact moment. And these comments are just that, ripping a page out of the Trump playbook.

Instead of offering explanations or real solutions to problems, you simply find a patsy, lay the blame at their feet, and lash out at them. Now all of the sudden the NFL anthem protests have turned into this metaphor for race in America, and Mr. Schnatter is whining about how it’s affecting his bottomline.

Papa John Schnatter & Peyton Manning
Papa John Schnatter & Peyton Manning

Like Trump, Schnatter is blaming Roger Goodell for the issues surrounding race relations in the US. However he, like most MAGA believers, continue to mistake the trees for the forest. He fails to see the common denominator in this equation: Donald Trump.

The moment Donald Trump decided to use the national anthem protests as his race-bait, distraction, du-jour, conservative media and its legions jumped all over Goodell. He essentially put the Eye of Sauron onto the NFL. His legions of MAGAs and their sympathizers knew exactly where to lay blame and who to make mad online.

Because of Trump and Papa John, it’s now up to Goodell and the NFL to “resolve” the “issue” of systemic and institutionalized racism and violence against black people.


It’s as if they think once Goodell makes the black players stand for the nation anthem, everything is going to return to normal, and we can go back to watching football and eating pizza in our apolitical bubble that is Monday Night Football.


Anyone with half a brain knows how patently stupid this manufactured controversy is on so many levels.

First of all, anointing Roger Goodell as “the savior of race relations” is ironic as it is insane.

It’s like people somehow think that all of society’s ills can somehow be legislated and fixed within the arena of football. And not even in a metaphoric way. NFL players are just like regular people with a cool and well-paying job, and when they screw up, the league hands down discipline. People just assume that’s how everyone should be treated in real life.

  • Beat up your girlfriend? You can play Sunday as long as you settle out of court.
  • Get pulled over for smoking pot? 1 year suspension.
  • Let some air out of a couple footballs? I don’t know, maybe no punishment for that, I guess.
  • And when Goodell can’t make a ruling, they just kick it up to the Supreme Court.

The second, and in my opinion, most glaring fault in the logic of Papa John’s declining sales is not that their pizza is garbage, its that their CEO is garbage. Objectively speaking, Papa John’s pizza is not bad. It’s a national chain with a recipe that was honed and perfected after years in the gauntlet of R/D science labs and focus groups. The pizza is scientifically engineered for you to like it, so if you do, don’t feel bad.

Do you think Papa John eats his own pizza? Do you think he visits each of his 4,700 locations in 37 countries to ensure the quality of his pizza is up to snuff? Of course not.

Papa Johns Locations - USA
Photo Credit:

Rather than focusing on making a good product, he’s trying to sell himself as “the brand”.

I’ve never seen a national chain who’s entire marketing strategy is so centered around such a thoroughly uncharismatic CEO. This guy is so bland that they have to put him in commercials next to Peyton Manning and J.J. Watt, literally the most vapid and vanilla athletes in existence, just to make him look even remotely interesting.

Frankly, I think it’s a little sad that this guy built a $2 billion business just so he can put himself in commercials and shove his celebrity down our throats. Here’s a thought: Maybe people think Papa John is an asshole. Maybe they don’t want to financially support a man who is, in turn, going to donate their money to supporting another Trump. Schnatter concluded his board call with this extremely fitting remark: “good or bad, leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership”.

Marketing blunders aside, the fundamental issue with Papa John’s isn’t neccessarily their pizza.

It’s been proved time and time again that if you create a quality product, nobody cares about anything else. People didn’t stop eating Chik-Fil-A after they basically said they won’t serve gay people. People didn’t stop eating Subway after their main spokesperson turned out to be a child pornographer.

Hell, people still voted for Trump knowing full-well that he’s had many sexual misconduct accusations brought against him. The point here is that if you create a good product, everything else figures itself out. But the important qualifier is that you have to make a good product.

You can’t slap some cheese on a piece of cardboard, tell everyone it’s pizza, and expect to get away with whatever you want. Papa John’s Pizza was built on a shitty marketing strategy, for a shitty product, created by a shitty person, and as soon as the bottom fell out and people saw Papa John’s for what it is: a diarrhea factory helmed by a bigoted wannabe-celebrity. Perhaps in that regard, Papa Johns is the perfect metaphor for describing what the US is today.

Additional slants on this topic may be found here and here.


Lyle Morrison is a writer from Boston and can be found
@RichardStash99 and at

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