Laura Ashley Powell
John Schnatter, the founder of Papa John’s Pizza, has admitted to and apologized for using a racial slur and other insensitive language during a conference call in May. The conference call was meant to train Schnatter on how to act in racially sensitive situations in order to prevent a public relations crisis.
Schnatter, in an email to Forbes, admitted to using the “n-word” to point out that others in the past had gotten away with saying the word. He was also criticized for distastefully describing a violent scene he witnessed against African Americans, which was apparently “intended…to convey his antipathy to racism.”
The same day that he sent the email, Schnatter resigned as board chairman. Steve Richie, Papa John’s CEO, then issued an open letter apology to the public.
“Those words in no way represent my views or the values of our company,” said Richie, seeking to distance the company from Schnatter’s comments. “Papa John’s is not an individual. Papa John’s is a pizza company with 120,000 corporate and franchise team members around the world.”
Richie then promised to employ actions instead of just words. He promised to use different methods to thoroughly analyze the company’s “culture and diversity and inclusion practices,” and to be as transparent with the public as possible about this process. Richie closed the open letter by promising to work hard to regain the trust of the public.
In light of Schnatter’s recent controversial comments, he has also been dropped from the University of Louisville’s Board of Trustees. Additionally, the mayor of Schnatter’s hometown of Jeffersonville, Indiana had the town’s Nachand Fieldhouse removed Schnatter’s name from the building. Schnatter’s name was on the building after he donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate the aging building.
This isn’t the first time the company has entered a PR crisis because of comments made by Schnatter. Papa John’s was previously a major sponsor the National Football League (NFL). Last year, Schnatter blamed falling revenue on the NFL leadership not properly taking care of the national anthem protest controversy.
According to an interview with the Washington Post, he blamed the controversy for hurting the NFL’s TV ratings, which consequently hurt his pizza sales. The company apologized for his “divisive” comments, and later that month Schnatter stepped down as CEO. The NFL replaced Papa John’s with Pizza Hut as a sponsor.
Before the NFL controversy, Schnatter had also received criticism from the public after complaining that the Affordable Care Act would make it a challenge to ensure his employees and then raise the cost of pizza. After this comment and his comments about the NFL, Schnatter appeared less and less in TV commercials until the controversy died down.
According to Forbes, who reported Schnatter’s recent offensive comments, he wanted to return to the spotlight to continue promoting his company. The conference call where he said the “n-word” was meant to aid him in the process of returning to the spotlight; a process ruined by a few moments of indiscretion.