John Schnatter, the founder and public face of Papa John’s pizza, has resigned as the company’s chairman after Forbes reported Wednesday that he used the N-word during a conference call in May.
If you recall, Schnatter made headlines last year when he said that Papa John’s pizza sales were hurt by the NFL’s handling of players’ kneeling during the National Anthem in protest of racial injustice. That comment spawned white supremacists to declare the company their “official pizza,” and craft memes showing pics of its pizzas with pepperoni arranged to form swastikas.
On the call in May, with marketing agency Laundry Service, Schnatter was participating in a role-playing exercise designed to prevent public relations crises. According to Forbes, he sought to downplay the significance of his criticism of the league and its players.
“Colonel Sanders called blacks n—–s,” he said, complaining that Sanders had never received backlash, according to Forbes.
Forbes also reported that Schnatter recalled growing up in Indiana, where he said people used to drag black people from their trucks until they died.
Forbes reported that Schnatter’s comments were intended to demonstrate his stance against racism, but that people on the call were offended by them.
Schnatter issued an apology earlier Wednesday after Forbes published the story. In a statement issued through the company, he said: “News reports attributing the use of inappropriate and hurtful language to me during a media training session regarding race are true. Regardless of the context, I apologize. Simply stated, racism has no place in our society.”
Papa John’s said in a statement late Wednesday it would appoint a new chairman “in the coming weeks.”
Papa John’s, founded by Schnatter in 1984, is the third largest pizza chain in the United States by sales, trailing Domino’s and Pizza Hut. It has stores in dozens of countries around the world, spanning Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
Schnatter was the public face of the company and its largest shareholder, controlling 29%, and appears in its ads, including one that rolled out as recently as April.
Schnatter also resigned Wednesday from the University of Louisville board of trustees. The chairman, J. David Grissom, said: “After speaking with John, I’m confident that his comments, while inappropriate, do not reflect his personal beliefs or values.” He added that the members of the board don’t condone racism or “insensitive” language.