Papa John’s Founder says he’s been ‘working for 20 months’ to remove the N-word from his vocabulary


The founder and former CEO of Papa John’s Pizza has denied allegations he’s a racist while claiming he’s been working for the last ’20 months’ to eradicate the N-word from his vocabulary.

John Schnatter resigned as CEO the pizza chain in 2018 after he blamed NFL players kneeling for the national anthem on dwindling sales figures. He also stepped down as board chairman six months later after he was recorded using the N-word while attempting to downplay the remarks during a company conference call.

Schnatter has previously accused other members of Papa John’s board of conspiring to force him out of the CEO role, and speaking to OANN on Monday he reiterated those allegations, saying his colleagues unfairly ‘painted’ him as a racist.

‘State of shock. Unbelievable – I just couldn’t understand it,’ he said. ‘You have a public board who paints its chairman … paints the founder as a racist, they know he’s not a racist – it’s just unbelievable.’

Schnatter then said he used to sit in bed wondering his peers managed to disparage his name.

He then bizarrely added: ‘We’ve had three goals for the last twenty months: Get rid of this N-word in my vocabulary and dictionary, and everything else because it’s just not true; figure out how they did this; and get on with my life.’

I’m not racist: Ex-Papa John’s CEO said he has spent the last twenty months scrubbing the ‘N-word’ from his vocabulary

John Schnatter resigned as CEO the pizza chain in 2018 after he blamed NFL players kneeling for the national anthem on dwindling sales

He also stepped down as board chairman six months later after he was recorded using the N-word during a company conference call about sensitivity training

John Schnatter resigned as CEO the pizza chain in 2018 after he blamed NFL players kneeling for the national anthem on dwindling sales. He also stepped down as board chairman six months later after he was recorded using the N-word during a company conference call about sensitivity training

However, he later said in an email to DailyMail that his meaning on OANN was misconstrued.   

‘On OANN, I tried to say, ‘Get rid of this n-word in (the) vocabulary and dictionary (of the news media), and everything else because it’s just not true,’ – reflecting my commitment to correct the false and malicious reporting by the news media about the conference call,’ Schnatter wrote.

‘It was proven in an investigative report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh that there was nothing racist in my words or actions on the conference call with our ad firm and that there has never been in my history. In fact, I said then, ‘I never used the word’ on that call, though the media failed to report that crucial qualifier when I was paraphrasing a third party.’

Immediately after the OANN interview, Schnatter insisted he has ‘no history of racism.’ 

He then appealed for Papa John’s to apologize to him, urging them to admit they failed to due their ‘proper due diligence and process with Delaware law’ before booting him from the company three years ago. 

The former CEO also noted that several Papa John’s board of directors benefited from kicking him out of the chain, claiming his removal led to them personally gaining of ‘tens of millions of dollars.’

Schnatter stepped down as the company’s chief executive in January 2018, after drawing criticism for blaming disappointing sales on the NFL’s handling of player protests during the national anthem, when Papa John’s sponsored the league.

Six months later, reports emerged that the founder had used the N-word during a media training call about avoiding PR blunders.

During the call with media agency Laundry Service, Schnatter tried to downplay his NFL remarks, saying ‘Colonel Sanders called blacks n*****s’ as he complained that the KFC founder never faced public backlash.

He resigned as board chairman soon after those reports came out. The pizza chain began removing Schnatter’s image from its logos, pizza boxes and restaurants after the incident made headlines. 

Schnatter issued an apology at the time, saying: ‘News reports attributing the use of inappropriate and hurtful language to me during a media training session regarding race are true.

‘Regardless of the context, I apologize. Simply stated, racism has no place in our society,’ he said.

During the call with media agency Laundry Service, Schnatter tried to downplay his NFL remarks, saying 'Colonel Sanders called blacks n*****s' as he complained that the KFC founder never faced public backlash

During the call with media agency Laundry Service, Schnatter tried to downplay his NFL remarks, saying ‘Colonel Sanders called blacks n*****s’ as he complained that the KFC founder never faced public backlash

Shortly issuing his apology, Schnatter spoke to KRON 4 news in San Francisco and denied using the offensive word as a racial slur.

‘It wasn’t a slur. It was a session on strategy and media planning and training and I repeated something that somebody else said and said we’re not going to say that.’ he said during the interview. 

‘We don’t use that kind of language and vocabulary. And sure it got taken out of context and sure it got twisted, but that doesn’t matter. I hurt people’s feelings. That’s what matters here. And for that I’m sorry.’

Then in December last year, a investigation commissioned by his lawyers into the call found he was not racist and the incident was ‘widely misreported’, the results stated.

The investigation, carried out by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, was described as a ‘background’ investigation into Schnatter’s past relationships with coworkers, friends and prominent African Americans.

‘A thorough examination by FGIS found that the public comments by Mr. Schnatter were neither intended nor can reasonably be interpreted to reflect any racial bias, prejudice, or disrespect for African Americans or people of color,’ the report said. 

Freeh, in a press release, said that in the meeting Schnatter ‘stress[ed] his disdain for racism’ and ‘at no time… express[ed] any beliefs that could be described as bigoted or intolerant.’

Schnatter did not ‘use the word as a racial slur nor was it directed at any person or group,’ added Freeh.

The investigative report found that Schnatter’s standing and reputation with prominent Africans Americans further validated their assessment that he ‘had no prejudicial intent or racial animus when he made the public comments at issue.’ 

Schnatter founded Papa John's in 1984 out of a broom closet in his father's tavern, Mick's Lounge, in Jeffersonville, Indiana. After the scandals, his image was removed from its logos, pizza boxes and restaurants

Schnatter founded Papa John’s in 1984 out of a broom closet in his father’s tavern, Mick’s Lounge, in Jeffersonville, Indiana. After the scandals, his image was removed from its logos, pizza boxes and restaurants

noHe w owns less than a four percent stake in the company, having began heavily offloading his 9.9 million shares beginning in May 2019

noHe w owns less than a four percent stake in the company, having began heavily offloading his 9.9 million shares beginning in May 2019

Schnatter later filed a complaint in the US District Court relating to the call in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky that was ordered to be unsealed by a judge last week. 

Excerpts of the complaint allege that ad firm Laundry Service ‘conspired to directly and willfully harm their image and brand.’

The details stem from a ‘hot mic’ conversation between the Laundry Service CEO, Jason Stein, and other firm personnel after concluding the call with Schnatter in which he ‘voiced his disdain’ for racism. 

Clearly planning to reverse the meaning of Schnatter’s comments and expose a false version of them to the media, Stein and his colleagues discussed ways they could destroy the founder’s reputation and thus his namesake company’s brand, the complaint claims. 

In the conversation that was taped by a witness in the litigation, Stein said that he hoped ‘[Schnatter] gets f******* sent out to pasture on this s***.’

The plot was to use Schnatter’s statement ‘against him’ and to schedule a ‘live interview with a hostile media personality and prompt Mr. Schnatter to make damaging statements which need ‘to be viral,” according to the complaint.   

‘The chilling details from this taped conversation make clear the intent of Laundry Service to destroy my reputation, as well as the Papa John’s brand, harming our employees and franchisees in the process,’ Schnatter says in the complaint.

‘A recent investigative report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh showed there was nothing racist in my words or actions on the conference call with our ad firm and also proves there has never been in my history.’

Schnatter concluded: ‘With this and the evidence coming forth in our litigation, it’s time for Laundry Service to be held accountable, and for Papa John’s to correct the record and apologize to me for validating the media frenzy that led to my forced departure as the company Chairman.’

Late last month, Schnatter also flew to St. Louis, urging Papa John’s to apologize after a former black employee sued the company after he claims to have experienced discrimination and was later fired for filing complaints.

Schnatter later filed a complaint in the US District Court relating to the call in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky that was ordered to be unsealed by a judge last week

Schnatter later filed a complaint in the US District Court relating to the call in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky that was ordered to be unsealed by a judge last week

Excerpts of the complaint allege that ad firm Laundry Service 'conspired to directly and willfully harm their image and brand'

Excerpts of the complaint allege that ad firm Laundry Service ‘conspired to directly and willfully harm their image and brand’

Late last month, Schnatter flew to St. Louis to urge Papa John's to apologize after a former black employee sued the company after he claims to have experienced discrimination and was later fired for filing complaints

Late last month, Schnatter flew to St. Louis to urge Papa John’s to apologize after a former black employee sued the company after he claims to have experienced discrimination and was later fired for filing complaints

George Mitchell fired a lawsuit against Papa John’s after he recorded audio of a manager he said would go on racist tirades. 

After multiple complaints to corporate, Mitchell was the one who was fired, and not the manager. Mitchell then decided to take matters into his own hands and emailed Schnatter.

‘I thought why isn’t the company doing anything about this?’ Schnatter told local media. ‘The tape is dreadful, it’s horrific, and for anybody to have to go through that, it’s just bad.’ 

Schnatter founded Papa John’s in 1984 out of a broom closet in his father’s tavern, Mick’s Lounge, in Jeffersonville, Indiana. 

He now owns less than a four percent stake in the company, having began heavily offloading his 9.9 million shares beginning in May 2019.  



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