Peyton Manning dumped his stake in Denver Papa John’s two days before the company split with NFL

From left, large cheese pizzas from Pizza Hut, Papa John’s and Domino’s. (Becky Krystal/The Washington Post)

Peyton Manning is a pizza purveyor no more.

The former NFL quarterback sold his stake in 31 Denver-area Papa John’s locations two days before the NFL and the pizza chain ended their sponsorship agreement late last month. Manning, who spent four years playing for the Broncos before retiring after the 2015 season, bought the stores in 2012 as part of a six-year joint venture with Papa John’s International, Papa John’s spokesman Peter Collins told Denver’s Fox affiliate.

Papa John’s and the NFL described the decision to end a sponsorship deal that began in 2010 as a “mutual decision,” but the relationship frayed last season when company founder John Schnatter blamed national anthem demonstrations by some NFL players for sagging pizza sales. Schnatter pointed to “poor leadership” at the top of the league and said the “controversy” was one that “should have been nipped in the bud” when Colin Kaepernick first took a knee in the summer of 2016.

The company’s stock plummeted and Papa John’s apologized less than two weeks after Schnatter’s initial comments, saying they were not intended to be “divisive.” The chain added that, while it believes Americans “should honor the anthem,” it supports “the players’ movement to create a new platform for change.” By December, Schnatter had stepped down as head of the company and, one day after Papa John’s split with the NFL, Pizza Hut became the official pizza of the league.

Don’t expect Peyton Manning to disappear from TV screens during NFL games, though. He will remain an omnipresent Papa John’s pitchman and brand ambassador. There will continue to be partnerships between Papa John’s and 22 local teams.

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