John Schnatter, founder of Papa John’s, blamed the mostly Black NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem for a decline in his pizza empire sales. And now, it turns out he used the N-word on a conference call regarding the backlash for his statements.
On Wednesday, in an emailed note to Forbes, Schnatter confirmed he indeed used racist language in May during a call between Papa John’s executives and the marketing agency Laundry Service. He was participating in a role-playing exercise to prevent future public-relations nightmares, which he alone causes.
“Schnatter was asked how he would distance himself from racist groups online,” reports Forbes.
Last year, the far-right website the Daily Stormer decided to name Papa John’s the “official pizza” of the alt-right.
But, on the call, Schnatter responded by downplaying the significance of his NFL statement.
“Colonel Sanders called Blacks n—–s,” Schnatter said. He then complained that Sanders never faced public backlash.
Not only did Schnatter compare himself to the face of KFC and lamented the racist privileges he had, he went on to say that when growing up in Indiana, “people used to drag African-Americans from trucks until they died.”
Multiple people on the call found his statements offensive, but Schnatter claims it was taken out of context.
“News reports attributing the use of inappropriate and hurtful language to me during a media training session regarding race are true,” he said in the email to Forbes. “Regardless of the context, I apologize. Simply stated, racism has no place in our society.”
In February, Papa John’s and the NFL ended its sponsorship deal, which began in 2010.
“The NFL and Papa John’s have made a mutual decision to shift from their official league sponsorship to a focus on partnerships with 22 local NFL teams, presence in broadcast and digital media, and key personalities in the sport,” they said, in a statement.
In November, on a phone call with investors because pizza sales were tanking, Schnatter said of NFL players kneeling in protest: “The controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country. Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership,” he added.
Schnatter stepped down as CEO of the company earlier this year (he remains chairman of the board, however).