Papa John says he was ‘pressured’ to use n-word during conference call
Embattled pizza chain Papa John’s on Friday moved to erase the memory of founder John Schnatter — literally.
The chain, with 5,212 locations, said it would remove the 56-year-old executive’s likeness from its logo, promotional materials and other marketing efforts, days after he drew heat for using the N-word during an inter-company conference call.
In addition, Major League Baseball has discontinued its Papa Slam promotion with the Louisville, Ky.-based company, and at least 11 MLB teams — including the Yankees and Nationals on Friday — dropped local sponsorships.
Also on Friday, the University of Louisville said it would remove Schnatter’s name from its football stadium.
The blowback from the remarks seems to have troubled investors. Papa John’s shares dipped 12 cents on Friday, to $53.55, after rising sharply one day earlier when Schnatter stepped down as chairman of the company.
“In response to the reprehensible remarks made by Papa John’s founder and owner, the New York Yankees are suspending their relationship with the company,” the franchise said in a prepared statement.
The 34-year-old pizza chain plans to hire an independent expert to audit all the company’s processes, policies and systems related to diversity and inclusion, Chief Executive Steve Ritchie said in a statement.
Ritchie stressed that the chain, with 120,00 employees and franchise “team members,” is more than just Schnatter.
Eric Schiffer, who works with Fortune 500 companies and CEOs on overcoming crises, told The Post that the company is making the right move in distancing itself from the executive.
“They need to take John Schnatter, and put him in the SpaceX rocket and send him to Mars,” Schiffer said. “His face is radioactive; it’s the kiss of death.”
On Friday afternoon, Schnatter, in an interview on WHAS, a Louisville radio station, said he was pressured to use the N-word during the conference call.
“The agency was promoting that vocabulary … They pushed me. And it upset me,” he told host Terry Meiners.
“It’s caused a lot of grief for my community, for my university,” Schnatter noted. “My employees are distraught, they’re crushed, and it’s all because I was sloppy and I wasn’t as sensitive. It’s the same mistake I made on the NFL comments.”
The executive caught flak in January when he said Papa John’s, a longtime NFL sponsor, saw its sales get dinged because of the league’s players’ national anthem kneeling protest.
Those comments led to him stepping down as CEO — and the NFL cutting ties to the chain.
Sunny Bonnell, chief executive of branding agency Motto, said that after some “knee-jerk” reactions by the chain and rebranding, things should settle down.
Despite the damage and Schnatter’s toxic state, Schiffer believes the turmoil will blow over and the chain will be OK.
“No one is going to care about this in a month,” he said.
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