Papa John’s founder resigns as chairman of the board amid backlash after admitting he used the N-word

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Papa John’s founder John Schnatter resigned as chairman of the company Wednesday amid growing backlash over his use of the n-word during a conference call in May.

In a statement late Wednesday night, the company said it had accepted his resignation and that Olivia Kirtley will be the company’s Lead Independent Director. The company said it will also appoint a new chairman in coming weeks.

The resignations comes after Schnatter admitted that he used “inappropriate and hurtful language” while on a conference call in May.

“Regardless of the context, I apologize,” Schnatter said in an email to Forbes, which first reported the remarks Wednesday. “Simply stated, racism has no place in our society.”

According to Forbes, Schnatter made the remark in a call with Papa John’s executives and the marketing agency Laundry Service on how to prevent negative public relations incidents.

When asked how he would keep his distance from online racists, Schnatter said that “Colonel Sanders called blacks n—–s,” and that he never faced criticism for it.

Schnatter also said when he was growing up in Indiana, people dragged African-Americans from trucks until they died.

After learning of Schnatter’s comments, Laundry Service owner, Casey Wasserman, ended its relationship with Papa John’s, Forbes reported. In an email to NBC News, a spokesperson for Wasserman refused to confirm that, saying the company had no comment.

Image: John H. Schnatter, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Papa John's International, Inc.
John Schnatter, founder and chairman of Papa John’s, rings the Nasdaq opening bell in New York on Jan. 31, 2014.Rob Kim / Getty Images file

Papa John’s condemned Schnatter’s remarks, saying the company was “built on a foundation of mutual respect and acceptance.“

“We are committed to maintaining a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace for all of our corporate and franchise employees,” the company said in a statement to NBC News. “We take great pride in the diversity of the Papa John’s family, though diversity and inclusion is an area where we will continue to strive to do better.”

Shares for the company fell nearly 5 percent after the reports Wednesday. The company is down 13 percent so far this year.

Schnatter also resigned as vice chairman from the University of Louisville Board of Trustees Wednesday. Chairman J. David Grissom said he spoke with Schnatter and said his comments were inappropriate, but “do not reflect his personal beliefs or values.”

“No member of the board of trustees condones racism or insensitive language regardless of the setting,” he said in an email to NBC News. “The University of Louisville embraces and celebrates diversity and is a supporter of all its students and stakeholders regardless as to their identity. The board appreciates his 2 years of service and thanks him for his generous support for so many years.”

The university also posted a statement on its official Twitter account.

In 2017, Schnatter resigned as CEO of the pizza chain nearly two months after he said that the controversy over NFL players’ protesting during the national anthem was “polarizing the customer,” and “polarizing the country.” The company, which had a sponsorship with the NFL, apologized for Schnatter’s remarks in a series of tweets.

“We believe in the right to protest inequality and support the players’ movement to create a new platform for change,” the company said.

The NFL and Papa John’s agreed to end the sponsorship in February.





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