Papa John’s Founder Decides to Fight Back — and Good for Him!

Written by Michael Cummings on August 3, 2018

Sometimes, you have to fight back — and not just with words.

Let’s say you’re the CEO of a large company. And let’s say that because your product is high profile – which makes you high profile — what you say in public is monitored and measured across the web like a stock ticker. If you say something controversial, you get raked over the coals and your publicists implore you to make amends. If you fix it, fine. If not, you’ll continue to get whacked across all social networks.

But what if, in that initial remark, you’re right? We’ll get to that in a minute.

First, let’s examine what John Schnatter, founder and former CEO of Papa John’s Pizza, said someone else said:

John Schnatter—the founder and public face of pizza chain Papa John’s—used the N-word on a conference call in May. Schnatter confirmed the incident in an emailed statement to Forbes on Wednesday. He resigned as chairman of Paper John’s on Wednesday evening.

The call was arranged between Papa John’s executives and marketing agency Laundry Service. It was designed as a role-playing exercise for Schnatter in an effort to prevent future public-relations snafus. Schnatter caused an uproar in November 2017 when he waded into the debate over national anthem protests in the NFL and partly blamed the league for slowing sales at Papa John’s.

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 said, before complaining that Sanders never faced public backlash.

So Schnatter didn’t actually call one or more black people an n-word. He remarked at how the founder of KFC had done that exact thing, and endured no consequences. In this highly charged political climate where everything you say could get you first, should he have said it? Probably not. But are our lives that bereft of meaning that we have to call for the head of someone who referred to another’s bad choice of words?

I shouldn’t have to point out the immense circle of wagons that would surround someone like San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich if he said the same thing. Being a hard-core leftist and hating Donald Trump grants you all sorts of immunity.

What was the original comment Schnatter made?

“The NFL has hurt us by not resolving the current debacle [allowing players to kneel during the National Anthem].”

He was right. The NFL hurt Papa John’s business, as well as the business of multiple other organizations connected to the NFL. The polls show liberty-loving Americans don’t like it when people kneel during the National Anthem.

Honestly, I don’t get this story. If Schnatter had been known for being a racist, that would be one thing. But he said a word someone else said. I’m supremely glad to hear he’s fighting back, however:

John Schnatter filed a lawsuit on Thursday against Papa John’s, the pizza chain he founded and chaired until July 11, demanding access to the company’s books and records. He also accused the board of treating him in a “heavy-handed way,” including by seeking to terminate an agreement that lets him sublease office space at Papa John’s headquarters.

Schnatter stepped down as chairman on July 11 after Forbes reported that he used the N-word and made other controversial remarks during a media training exercise in May. Prior to his resignation, Schnatter confirmed the incident. “News reports attributing the use of inappropriate and hurtful language to me during a media training session regarding race are true,” he said in a statement. “Regardless of the context, I apologize. Simply stated, racism has no place in our society.”

Nevertheless, Schnatter’s lawsuit now claims that the Forbes article “falsely accused him of using a racial slur.” Pushed for clarification, Schnatter’s attorney Patricia Glaser said, “The truth, and John’s consistent point, has been that John quoted the word and did not use the word. There is a world of difference between using the word as a slur—demeaning someone by calling them that word—and quoting that word.”

I hope he wins, and I hope it inspires others to have courage.

Image: Creative Commons’ (CC BY 2.0) Excerpted from:

Michael Cummings
Michael A. Cummings has a Bachelors in Business Management from St. John's University in Collegeville, MN, and a Masters in Rhetoric & Composition from Northern Arizona University. He has worked as a department store Loss Prevention Officer, bank auditor, textbook store manager, Chinese food delivery man, and technology salesman. Cummings wrote position pieces for the 2010 Trevor Drown for US Senate (AR) and 2012 Joe Coors for Congress (CO) campaigns.