NEW YORK (AP) - Papa John's says its founder John Schnatter will step down as CEO next month, about two months after he publicly criticized the NFL leadership over national anthem protests by football players.

The company said Thursday that Schnatter remains chairman but be replaced as chief executive by Chief Operating Officer Steve Ritchie on Jan. 1.

Schnatter had blamed slowing sales growth on the outcry surrounding NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. Papa John's International Inc. is an NFL sponsor and advertiser. Schnatter also said at the time that customers had a negative view of the chain's association with the NFL.

The comments drew praise from white supremacists and the company apologized two weeks later.

Ritchie would not say if Schnatter's NFL comments played a role in the job change.