Forbes Magazine reports that Papa John’s founder John Schnatter used the n-word in a conference call that was designed as a role-playing session to help him practice not being offensive.
The call, which took place in May, included Papa John’s executives and representatives from their marketing agency Laundry Service. It was intended as a role-playing exercise to help Schattner avoid PR mistakes like the one he committed when he jumped into the debate over NFL players’ national anthem protests and blamed the league for hurting sales at Papa John’s.
On the call, according to a source familiar with what was said, Schnatter was asked how he would distance himself from online racists. He apparently didn’t answer that question directly, but instead downplayed the significance of his remarks about the NFL. “Colonel Sanders called blacks n—–s,” Schnatter allegedly said, before complaining that Sanders never faced public backlash.
Schnatter also reflected on his childhood in Indiana, where, he said, African-Americans were routinely dragged behind trucks until they died. He apparently intended for the remarks to demonstrate his opposition to racism, but multiple people on the call found those comments 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, which later apparently resulted in layoffs at the agency.
Papa John’s representatives initially declined to comment but provided a statement after Forbes published its initial report. The statement did not dispute any of Forbes‘ reporting, but noted that “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.”