Papa John’s founder John Schnatter, who stepped down as the brand’s CEO in January amid a public relations controversy, allegedly used a racial slur during a conference call earlier this year, Forbes reports. During the May 2018 call, Schnatter allegedly used the N-word and described graphic acts of violence against African-Americans in an attempt to “convey his antipathy to racism.” The call, per Forbes, “was designed as a role-playing exercise for Schnatter in an effort to prevent future public-relations snafus” — instead, Schnatter’s behavior led to the resignation of its media agency over remarks many on the call found offensive.
Schnatter, who still retains the role of chairman at Papa John’s, clearly needs that “PR snafu” training. In November 2017, he blamed the pizza chain’s lagging sales on the ongoing national anthem protests conducted by NFL players (at the time, Papa John’s was the official pizza sponsor of the NFL, and Schnatter stated that the social-justice protests “should have been nipped in the bud” sooner).
Immediately following Schnatter’s comments, competitors pounced, dragging the chain on Twitter, while some members of the self-proclaimed alt-right interpreted Schnatter’s anti-NFL statement as an invitation to endorse the brand. Less than a week after Schnatter’s comments, Papa John’s was forced to publicly distance itself from the neo-Nazi movement: “We condemn racism in all forms and any and all hate groups that support it,” a representative said at the time. “We do not want these individuals or groups to buy our pizza.”
In the resulting PR fallout — and just two months after Schnatter announced he was stepping down — the NFL announced a new partnership with Pizza Hut as its official league pizza. According to Forbes, Papa John’s stock prices have fallen 25% since those original comments.
The latest racially charged incident involving Schnatter reveals his continued status as a liability for the company: His current role as Papa John’s chairman, according to a 2017 press release, is ostensibly to “continue to champion the core principles that led to recognition as the industry leader in product quality and customer satisfaction.” In a statement provided to Forbes, Papa John’s did not deny the account of the incident, but noted that “Papa John’s condemns racism and any insensitive language, no matter the situation or setting.”
Update, July 11, 4:17 p.m.: Schnatter acknowledged the Forbes report about the incident, during which he used “inappropriate and hurtful language,” has apologized, saying in a statement: “Regardless of the context, I apologize. Simply stated, racism has no place in our society.”
• Papa John’s Founder Allegedly Used N-Word On Conference Call [Forbes]
• Papa John’s Founder Reportedly Used Racial Slur in Conference Call [Bloomberg]
• Papa John’s Founder ‘Papa’ John Schnatter Stepping Down as CEO [E]