LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Pizza hero John Schnatter, the founder of the Papa John's empire that boasts more than 5,000 stores around the world, on Wednesday admitted to the use of a racial slur and then stepped down from the University of Louisville Board of Trustees.
He has since resigned as Chairman of the Board for Papa John's Pizza. And in his hometown, he faced more backlash as the mayor of Jeffersonville stripped the "John H. Schnatter" name from a historic gym he donated to restore.
This is how it all unfolded -- in less than 24 hours.
Forbes reported Wednesday that Schnatter used the N-word on a conference call with Papa John's executives and representatives from a marketing agency called Laundry Service, which has offices in Brooklyn, Los Angeles and London among other cities.
The call was "a role-playing exercise" for Schnatter, intended to prevent additional public-relations missteps following Schnatter's foray into the debate over NFL player protests of the national anthem, Forbes reported. At one time the official pizza of the NFL, Papa John's lost its partnership with the league -- Pizza Hut is the NFL's new official pizza -- and the chain's stock price has dropped by more than 20 percent since last November. Also, Schnatter, who was once a regular on Papa John's television commercials, was booted from that role, and he eventually stepped down as CEO.
On the call, which Forbes said took place sometime in May, Schnatter referenced another local fast-food figure, Colonel Harland Sanders, the face of popular chicken chain Kentucky Fried Chicken.
"Colonel Sanders called blacks n-----s," Schnatter allegedly said on the call, according to Forbes. The report also said Schnatter "reflected on his early life in Indiana, where, he said, people used to drag African-Americans from trucks until they died. He apparently intended for the remarks to convey his antipathy to racism, but multiple individuals on the call found them to be offensive," a source told Forbes.
Wednesday morning, a Papa John's spokesman shared the following statement with WAVE 3 News:
"Papa John’s condemns racism and any insensitive language, no matter the situation or setting. Our company was built on a foundation of mutual respect and acceptance. One of our core company values is People Are Priority Always (P.A.P.A.) and we are committed to maintaining a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace for all of our corporate and franchise employees. Diversity is an essential ingredient in our pursuit of providing a better product and better service to our customers and to the communities where we operate and live. 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."
WAVE 3 News later received the following statement from the company, said to be an official statement from Schnatter:
"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."
On Wednesday afternoon, the Louisville branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or the NAACP, called on Schnatter to step down from the University of Louisville Board of Trustees. Their statement said in part:
"We, the Louisville Branch NAACP call on John Schnatter to step down from the U of L Board of Trustees or be removed. In the place where high ideals are developed, taught, practiced and expected to be emulated and modeled, there is no place or role for a person who uses the n-word knowing what its usage has denoted."
UofL Professor Dr. Ricky Jones, often outspoken about race issues around WAVE Country and across the country, posted his thoughts on Twitter:
NO, I’m NOT calling for Papa John to resign from #UofL ‘s Board of Trustees (know that I don’t think he ever should have been there!). I’m waiting to see what #UofL, BOT Chair David Grissom, and Gov. Matt Bevin say and do. Let’s see how THEY roll with respect to black dignity. ??— Ricky L. Jones (@DrRickyLJones) July 11, 2018
And late Wednesday afternoon, Jones got his wish, as BOT Chair David Grissom issued a statement to the media.
"After speaking with John, I’m confident that his comments, while inappropriate, do not reflect his personal beliefs or values. No member of the board of trustees condones racism or insensitive language regardless of the setting. The University of Louisville embraces and celebrates diversity and is a supporter of all its students and stakeholders regardless as to their identity.
John has tendered his resignation from the University of Louisville board of trustees effective immediately. The board appreciates his 2 years of service and thanks him for his generous support for so many years."
RunSwitch PR, the public relations firm for the UofL Foundation, confirmed that Schnatter is also no longer on the UofL Foundation Board.
On Wednesday evening, Schnatter took another hit.
Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore grew up with Schnatter in Jeffersonville. Moore announced the city would be removing "John H. Schnatter" from the John H. Schnatter - Nachand Fieldhouse.
The historic gym was renamed in September of 2017, when Schnatter made a $800,000 donation to the "Save the Fieldhouse" project. The building, which was built in 1937, needed major improvements. Schnatter made the sizable donation to ensure the building got the renovations it needed.
Wednesday around 6 p.m., Moore made the announcement that Schnatter's name would be removed. By that time, it was already off the building's facade at the main entrance.
"They have subtly threatened a lawsuit," Moore said. "It's not easy to turn your back on an $800,000 gift, but some things are more important than money. There's so much great history to this building."
Moore said he hopes Schnatter will allow them to keep the $800,000.
"I think he needs to put some funding to some of these organizations that he hurt," Sadiqa Reynolds, of the Louisville Urban League, said. "He is an influential person with a lot of power. And he has wielded that power in ways that has not always been great for the African American Community."
She believes the only place his name belongs now "is on his mailbox at his house."
Bill Stone, who is an Overseer at UofL, said he respected Schnatter's actions in the wake of the controversy.
"I thought John showed dignity and class by resigning quickly and not putting UofL through a long, laborious debate about this issue," Stone said.
He does not think Papa John's name should be removed from stadium.
"The name John Schnatter isn't there," he said. "The name of the pizza is there. So let's not go bonkers over all this."
A spokesman for the University for Kentucky, Jay Blanton, also provided a statement on the criticism Schnatter faces:
"Without question, the language reported in the conference call is unacceptable and has no place in our community. We look forward to Mr. Schnatter further addressing this issue in response to the heavy criticism he is rightly receiving."
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