Photo: Michael Hickey /Getty Images

This shouldn’t be a controversial statement, but let’s find out: Papa John’s pizza is gross. The sauce is too sweet, the crust too doughy, and the cheese is either rubbery or so oily it slides right off of the slice like a sheet of ice off a rooftop on a sunny winter’s afternoon. Founder and CEO John Schnatter hasn’t been doing much to prop up the company’s image, either, making spurious claims about “Obamacare” forcing him to up pizza prices and paying his employees so little that the company was forced to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by drivers in six states. (Schnatter himself has a net worth of $801 million.)

But, of course, the chain’s declining sales are NFL players’ fault for exercising their First Amendment right to protest racism and police brutality.

Schnatter, in case you couldn’t tell, is a Republican. And after losing more than $70 million in less than 24 hours after the company’s dismal third-quarter earnings report was released yesterday, Schnatter built on a popular (and disingenuous) GOP talking point by saying that NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem are not only disrespecting the flag and the National Anthem, but also shitty pizza.

As reported by ESPN, Schnatter said in a conference call earlier today, “The NFL has hurt us. 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.” Papa John’s is the official pizza sponsor of the NFL, and the NFL—and by extension the protests—is hurting Papa John’s profits because fewer people are ordering pizza for game days, Schnatter claims. “The controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country,” he said, an impassioned plea for the good old days when we could come together in ignoring the murder of American citizens by police officers over a slice of marginally edible pizza.

Schnatter went on to say that “we expect [a decline in sales] to persist unless a solution is put in place.” However, as ESPN puts it, “company executives declined to disclose exactly how much money in projected sales Papa John’s lost from its association with the NFL.” (Emphasis ours.) The five other NFL sponsors (out of 18) who responded to ESPN’s request for comment all declined to critique the NFL, and two said that they had not changed their marketing strategies in response to the protests.

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Papa John’s, meanwhile, has pulled much of its NFL TV advertising, reducing its advertising footprint and thus the possibility that a drunk fan might see the ad and go, “Dude, I just need to eat something right now. I don’t really care what it is.”