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Papa John’s founder accused of using racial slur on conference call

John Schnatter, the founder of the Papa John’s pizza franchise, has been accused of using a racial slur during a conference call in May with a marketing agency, per a Forbes report.

The call reportedly was arranged between Schnatter and Laundry Service as a “role-playing” exercise in the wake of the Papa John’s founder’s public relations disaster last fall when he publicly blamed NFL players’ anthem protests for the company’s declining profits. Schnatter stepped down as CEO on Jan. 1, 2018 and also was replaced as the company’s president and COO.

On the May call, Schnatter was asked how he would distance himself from racist groups online. He responded by downplaying the significance of his NFL statement. “Colonel Sanders called blacks n——-s,” Schnatter allegedly said, before complaining that Sanders never faced public backlash.

Schnatter also 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, the source said. After learning about the incident, Laundry Service owner Casey Wasserman moved to terminate the company’s contract with Papa John’s.

Papa John’s was the official pizza sponsor of the league for years. Pizza Hut has since taken over that role, which began with the 2018 NFL Draft, on a four-year deal.

A Papa John’s representative requested an advanced copy of the report when contacted for comment on Tuesday, but Forbes declined. The rep indicated no statements would be made until publication of the report. Papa John’s has since issued a statement which reads:

“Papa John’s condemns racism and any insensitive language, no matter the situation or setting. … We take great pride in the diversity of the Papa John’s family, though diversity and inclusion is an area we will continue to strive to do better.” 

Forbes notes that Papa John’s statement in no way disputes its reporting on the conference call.