Papa John's founder John Schnatter has been forced to resign after 'N-word' row
Back in the tail end of 2017, Papa John's founder John Schnatter stepped down from his role as chief executive after wading into the National Anthem debate between the NFL and US President Donald Trump.
As tensions rose after certain players chose to kneel for the Star-Spangled Banner in response to police brutality across the country, irking the president, Schnatter implied the conflict was affecting his pizza sales, criticising the NFL in the process.
"The controversy is polarising the customer, polarising the country. Good or bad, leadership starts at the top and this is an example of poor leadership. Once the issue is resolved, we're optimistic the NFL's best years are ahead."
Papa John's global reputation took a hit, and with Schnatter's name so inextricably linked to the Papa John's brand (with his face front and centre in a lot of the marketing material), you can see why Papa John's thought it would be a good idea to give Schnatter some kind of PR preparation, setting up a roleplaying exercise for Schnatter in aid of avoiding similar slips of the tongue in the future.
It... did not go well.
During this exercise, John Schnatter made several unsavoury comments, including at one point using the 'N-Word', and has been forced to resign as a consequence. Schnatter himself has confirmed he's stepping down, and Papa John's will now have to spend some time looking for a new man to helm the pizza company.
The roleplaying reportedly took place in May in the form of a conference, with Schnatter facing questions designed to prepare him for similar potential issues in the future. One of the questions related to the NFL fiasco back in November 2017, where Schnatter was asked how he would distance himself from racist groups (following an online campaign where Papa John's was declared the "official pizza" of the alt-right movement).
Schnatter reportedly replied by claiming that "Colonel Sanders called blacks n*****s," arguing that Sanders never faced criticism for his comments, and in the process attempted to minimise his own comments on the NFL issue. Schnatter also touched upon his own upbringing in Indiana, where he reportedly talked about how African-Americans were once dragged from trucks and killed.
He reportedly used these examples to show how not racist he was, but his comments drew severe criticism from the Papa John's board. In an emailed statement, Schnatter confirmed his comments on that conference call, and expressed his severe regret.
"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."
Forbes reported that several people on this conference call found the nature of Schnatter's statements to be offensive, and Laundry Service owner Casey Wasserman terminated a contract they had with Papa John's, once word of the conference call got out.
Sources close to the company say that members of the Papa John's Franchise Advisory Council pushed the board to remove Schnatter as chair following the call, but didn't make a similar call following his November incident. "The independent directors of the company have accepted the resignation of John H. Schnatter as Chairman of the Board," Papa John's said in a statement, also revealing that a replacement will be announced in the coming weeks.