Papa John's founder John Schnatter has stepped down as the chairperson of the pizza restaurant franchise company’s board after he admitted to using a racial slur during a May conference call and apologized for the offensive comment.
In a statement on July 11, the Louisville-headquartered company said that it will select a new chairperson in the next few weeks adding that Olivia F. Kirtley, the president of International Federation of Accountants, will act as Papa John’s lead independent director in the interim.
The news of Schnatter’s decision to step down as Papa John’s chairperson comes after a Yahoo Sports report that the Major League Baseball had suspended the promotion of Papa Slam for an indefinite period of time. Papa Slam is a campaign that Papa John’s and Yahoo Sports have collaborated on since 2016. The Major League Baseball had acknowledged the indefinite suspension of the campaign to CNBC.
In an article published on July 11, Forbes magazine detailed the comments made by Schnatter in the May conference, in which he was in a call with Laundry Service, a full-service marketing agency that is owned by sports agency owner Casey Wasserman. In that call, Schnatter was asked how he would avoid racist groups online. He responded by downplaying the severity of his NFL statement he made November last year and allegedly told that KFC’s Founder Colonel Sanders used the N-word to describe African-Americans and complained that Sanders was never criticized or censured for his comments.
The conference call was devised as a role-playing exercise for Schnatter to avert future public-relations fiascos after the wake of the November 2017 controversy, in which he debated over national anthem protests in the National Football League and partially held the league responsible for sluggish sales at his company. The incident also led Casey Wasserman to terminate Laundry Service’s contract with Papa John’s.
After the incident came to light on July 11, Schnatter issued an unconditional apology by stating news reports featuring the use of offensive and racist language by him during a media training session are true and he unconditionally apologizes for irrespective of the context adding that racism has no place in the modern society.
In an internal memo sent to team members, employees, operators, and franchisees on July 11, Papa John’s CEO Steve Ritchie said that the company acknowledges that it has lost a little bit of focus on the core values that were instrumental in building the brand image and bringing success for so many years adding that the company has to own up the missteps and carry out whatever it takes to achieve the trust and goodwill of the people.