Papa John’s Chair John Schnatter Resigns After Using the N-Word

He was the “John” in Papa John’s, but now he’s out: John Schnatter, founder of the pizza chain, stepped down as chairman following controversy over his use of a racial slur in a media-training conference call.

Schnatter had used the N-word during a call with his company’s marketing agency, Laundry Service, back in May. According to a Forbes report on Wednesday, during a role-playing exercise he insisted that KFC founder Colonel Sanders had never faced an outcry for using the term.

The Papa John’s chairman also spoke in graphic terms about the lynching of African Americans in Indiana, where he grew up. Although he apparently was trying to make a point about his non-racist views, the call disturbed other participants so much that Laundry Service cut ties with its client.

John Schnatter
John Schnatter, founder & Pres. of a chain of Papa John’s pizza restaurants, with employees at one of his outlets, making a surprise quality check on a row of pizzas laid out on counter at restaurant in 1997.Taro Yamasaki—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
Taro Yamasaki—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Schnatter stepped down as the company’s CEO at the end of last year, following his controversial remarks about the NFL protests against police brutality. The NFL’s failure to resolve the issue of black players kneeling during the national anthem hurt advertisers’ sales, he complained, leading to huge pushback on social media.

That incident also led far-right groups to endorse Papa John’s, which in turn led to the disastrous media-training exercise in May—according to the Forbes report, Schnatter emitted the racial slur and lynching comments when trying to explain how he would distance himself from racist groups.

The report of his latest remarks hit the company’s share price by almost 5%. Major League Baseball then pulled its Papa Slam promotion with the pizza company, and shortly afterwards Schnatter, who had already issued an apology, fell on his sword.

In a statement about the board accepting his resignation, Papa John’s said it would appoint a new chairman in the coming weeks.

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