Papa John’s Founder John Schnatter: Alleged Racist Comments ‘Misconstrued,’ ‘Benign,’ ‘Twisted’

Monday on Fox Business Network’s “Mornings with Maria,” Papa John’s founder and former CEO John Schnatter revisited his 2018 resignation from the company and its fallout with the National Football League.

Schnatter acknowledged having discussed race issues but described those conversations as benign. He went on to say the comments that forced him out at Papa John’s were “misconstrued” and “twisted.”

Partial transcript as follows:

BARTIROMO: You were ready to retire, but you had a problem, obviously. You were on a conference call and a racial slur was used. Can you tell us what was behind of all of that?

SCHNATTER: Well, if you look at the chronological order of events, is the NFL call was November the 1st, and there was — it was a benign call. There was nothing racial about that. They turned a little bit into kneeling, but there was nothing said about kneeling. The call you’re referring to was July the — May the 22nd that aired the — July the 12th, yes.

BARTIROMO: OK. So let’s go back to first the NFL call. Tell — tell me about the NFL and your relationship with the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell.

SCHNATTER: Right. Very good. Papa John’s was the most associated brand with the NFL. Most recognizable brand with the NFL. About a third of our budget was spent on the NFL. And they were having the issue with the kneeling. And I kind of got on Goodell a little bit, let’s fix the problem here. You know, let’s — let’s satisfy the players and the owners. But there was nothing in there about the players kneeling or anything that was in any way racial.

BARTIROMO: So what was — what was most upsetting about that call?

SCHNATTER: The — the way it was misconstrued. The comments were benign. And the way it was twisted. And then the company’s lack of effort to correct the record. That was probably the most frustrating thing.

BARTIROMO: So you’re saying you would have liked Roger Goodell to — to come to your defense?

SCHNATTER: I would have liked Roger Goodell just to fix the problem. Remember, a third of our budget was the NFL. So when that — the ratings, I think, were down some 20 percent. So it was hurting our business. It was hurting our franchisees. It was hurting our small business owners.

BARTIROMO: Do you think he was behind forcing you to give up the chairman’s title?

SCHNATTER: I don’t know if he was behind it. I think he was a little bit frustrated with my comments. He’s not used to being challenged. And the NFL is very powerful. And I was — I was pretty stern, you need to fix the problem here. You’re the leader. Be accountable.

BARTIROMO: Then what happened?

SCHNATTER: I retired end of ’17. And we — we started to deteriorate a little bit with the performance and then, as I was coming back in the picture, we had a diversity training session in New York with Laundry Service and falling short of it is they taped the call, which is fine. You know, I get taped all the time. But I wish they had — would have told me who’s on the call and they were taping it. And that got twisted.

BARTIROMO: So on that call, you were talking about somebody else and you made a comment that was a racial slur?

SCHNATTER: No, there — there has never been any racial slurs. There’s been in — never been any use of the word. That’s probably been the most frustrating. That’s not true at all.

What — the call was 52 minutes and it was totally anti-racist. At the very end of the call, I simply stated what another founder said and the way he went about using that word. Colonel Sanders calls black people the N-word. I would never call a black person the N-word. It’s not the way I was raised.

Follow Jeff Poor on Twitter @jeff_poor

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