Papa John’s founder John Schnatter said in an interview aired Friday that he felt he was goaded into using a racial slur during a conference call that has since caused a public relations firestorm for his company and himself, but that he doesn’t blame anyone for the fallout but himself.
“ I said it, and it’s wrong and it hurt people,” Schnatter said in an interview taped with WHAS 840-AM’s Terry Meiners on Friday before Louisville removed Papa John’s sponsorship of its football stadium. “That’s the bottom line here is it’s all about the people, and I hurt people. Whether it was intentional or not intentional — which, of course, it was unintentional — but I still hurt them and I have to own that, and I have to apologize for that, period.”
Schnatter resigned from the U of L Board of Trustees and the board of his company Wednesday after Forbes published a report that he had used the n-word during a conference call. The call was scheduled to help Schnatter with media relations after negative fallout from his comments about NFL protests during the national anthem.
“Anything that I say or do that hurts the folks that I care about ... it’s upsetting. It’s not right. I’m distraught over it ... ,” Schnatter told Meiners. “Whether it’s a rehearsal or training or whatever else, we don’t condone racism in any way. Regardless of the context, you can’t use that kind of vocabulary.”
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Schnatter said in the interview that Laundry Service, the marketing firm contracted to help him in the wake of his controversial NFL comments last year “pushed” him and upset him in a May conference call. “They actually wanted to get into that vocabulary, and I said ‘absolutely not.’
“Of course, part of the comment where I said somebody else said it (the n-word) got printed, and the part where I said I never say that and I wouldn’t say that and that’s not the way I was raised, that didn’t get (printed). But shame on me for even bringing it up.”
Schnatter acknowledged the Forbes report was true Wednesday and issued an apology. But a public relations firestorm ensued, with repercussions for Schnatter and Papa John’s.
After the Schnatter interview was taped but before it aired Friday, Louisville President Neeli Bendapudi addressed a letter to the “U of L Family” that declared U of L would both rename its football stadium and remove Schnatter’s name from its Center for Free Enterprise and its College of Business, effective immediately.
Bendapudi’s letter, which called Schnatter’s comments “hurtful and unacceptable,” said Friday’s moves were made with the support of the school’s Board of Trustees.
“I have stated since my first day on this job that my commitment to the University of Louisville is to make it a great place to learn, a great place to work, and a great place in which to invest,” the U of L president’s letter said. “We can only accomplish this if we truly celebrate diversity, foster equity, and aim to achieve inclusion.”
Schnatter in his interview with Meiners said he had not discussed naming rights on the stadium as of Friday afternoon. He mentioned it in the context of other athletics projects he was contributing to, including new baseball facilities.
Also Friday, The Associated Press reported Papa John’s plans to remove Schnatter’s image from all marketing materials. Late Wednesday, Major League Baseball apparently suspended its “Papa Slam” promotion, according to a report. Both the Miami Marlins and Baltimore Orioles suspended their agreements with the chain as well.
Thursday, Schnatter’s hometown of Jeffersonville, Ind., returned a donation of $800,000 and removed Schnatter’s name from a city gym and community center.
The removal of Papa John’s from Cardinals stadium came a day after some U of L football players expressed sentiment on social media that they no longer wanted Schnatter’s name associated with the program.
Seth Dawkins, a junior wide receiver who started 10 games last season, called for the name to be taken down in a Twitter post Thursday afternoon.
“We need to change the name of the stadium ASAP, I’m not here for it,” Dawkins tweeted.
When a responder replied that Dawkins could probably expect a phone call from a coach or administrator, Dawkins replied, “Yea I’m expecting one here soon but it’s outta hand at this point.”
Louisville players Trey Smith and P.J. Mbanasor were made available to reporters after Friday’s announcement about the stadium name change.
“I know Papa John’s has a big impact on the nation and he just made a mistake,” Smith said outside the stadium Friday afternoon. “He’s paying the price, obviously. I forgive him.”
Mbanasor confirmed Bendapudi met with the entire team ahead of the announcement.
The naming rights to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium rest with Schnatter himself, not the company nor the university, according to his contract with the university, and those rights run through 2041. The deal, outlined in a Kentucky Center of Investigative Reporting story last year, specifies that Schnatter can rename the stadium any way he sees fit, even removing the company name and replacing it with his own.
Bendapudi said Friday she informed Schnatter and Papa John’s International about the name change and acknowledged there might be legal consequences to breaking the agreement with Schnatter.
Asked whether he would like to apologize to the football team Friday, Schnatter told Meiners he would.
“I’d be glad to have the opportunity to apologize, but I don’t think they would have me,” he said.