‘That’s racist’: Papa John Schnatter says company used Shaq as a ‘shield’ to ‘cover up what they did to a white guy’

Papa John’s pizza founder John Schnatter said using Shaquille O’Neal to replace him as the national face of the brand was a racist thing for the company to do.

Schnatter left the company in 2018 months after stepping down as CEO when tapes of private conversations with a public relations company surfaced. The audio clip included him saying the N-word but not in a disparaging manner.

The 62-year-old was heard saying that Kentucky Fried Chicken icon Colonel Sanders “called blacks n******,” before saying that he never faced public backlash over his alleged position. Schnatter later released the full transcript, which read as follows:

“Up in New York we made a decision. We’re going to go out and get killed again, then I don’t have to worry about doing the ads. And I got to tell you, heaven forbid this company if they’re not going to use me at all. After I’ve looked at this research, I mean, I’m just not seeing how you’re not going to tell the Papa John story and let them — what bothers me is Colonel Sanders called Blacks n******. I’m like, I’ve never used that word. And they get away with it. Yet we use the word debacle and we get framed in the same genre. It’s crazy. The whole thing’s crazy.”

The former CEO issued an apology but alluded that the quote was out of context.

“News reports attributing the use of inappropriate and hurtful language to me during a media training session regarding race are true,” he said. “Regardless of the context, I apologize. Simply stated, racism has no place in our society,” Schnatter added, according to Forbes.

During an interview on “Fearless” with host Jason Whitlock, the entrepreneur remarked that the company’s decision to replace him with O’Neal, the retired NBA champion seen in countless branding campaigns, was a racist move.

“Of all the things, that was the most racist. They used a black guy to cover up what they did to a white guy. That’s racist. They did it right in front of America. He was just a shield to cover up their infidelity and what they did to me,” he explained.

“No good news is going to come out of that company for the next 12 months.”

Schnatter went on to say that audiences shouldn’t feel sorry for him.

“I’m a hard guy to feel sorry for, so you got to just get over that, and I got to get over that real quick,” he remarked.

“When this started out and I heard about this, I thought this is crazy. This is kind of funny. You’re going to paint me as a racist. There’s no way, there’s no history of it, there’s no examples of it, no way.”

Representatives for O’Neal did not respond to request for comment.

Host Whitlock suggested that the Papa John’s team should bite the bullet and reach out to Schnatter and repair the image of the franchise.

Schnatter said in a different portion of the interview that the company’s stock value had dropped an estimated 30% in 2024. Shares in Papa John’s have dropped about $20 from February to May 2024.

He explained that it would be wise for the company to “have the founder back,” knowing that he is pro-Papa John’s, pro-people, and pro-humanity. Schnatter admitted, however, that he did have a “bit of a bad taste” in his mouth from the whole ordeal but doesn’t hold any animosity.

“It was a pretty dirty thing to do, [but] I think that would be really good for the brand and the franchisees.”

“I’m not going to hold my breath,” he continued. The Indiana native explained that he wasn’t sure if the company had enough integrity to call on him despite the fact that “no good news is going to come out of that company for the next 12 months.”

Schnatter added that it would be no easy task to get Papa John’s back on track quickly, with its 6,000 stories in 50 countries and 100,000 employees.

“It’s fixable, but you really got to know what you’re doing, and you got to make quick decisions.”

The former chairman also noted that the margins on food service would need to go “down to zero,” which wouldn’t meet the company’s “Wall Street number.”

He likened anything less to simply “rearranging chairs on the Titanic.”

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