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John Schnatter claims he was “pushed” to use racial slur

Mike Florio

John Schnatter a/k/a Papa John saw his effort to restore his image implode this week, with the report from Forbes.com that he made racially inappropriate remarks during a conference call with a firm hired to help him turn around the way people view him. Instead of simply taking his lumps, counting his cash, and/or watching his shares of Papa John’s International, Inc. increase in value due to his departure from the company, Schnatter has some more things to say.

For starters, he says he was essentially nudged into using the racial slur that became the death knell for his time with the company he founded.

“Believe it or not . . . the agency was promoting that vocabulary, in that genre,” Schnatter said during a Friday interview with Terry Meiners of NewsRadio 840 WHAS. “And I made it real clear, ‘Listen, we’re not gonna go there, we’re not gonna talk about this.’ And they pushed me, and it upset me, and I just said, ‘Listen, other people have used that word. I don’t, and will not use that word and people at Papa John’s don’t use that.’ And that was the comment. But they actually wanted to get into that vocabulary, and I said absolutely not.

“And, of course, part of the comments where I said somebody else said it 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 in it. But shame on me for even bringing it up. But the point is, you can’t use that vocabulary, you can’t use that word, and we will not, and I’m not going to, and I have not.”

But Schnatter did use it, and he doesn’t deny that he used it. Even though he says he never uses it.

Meiners (who did a very good job asking a wide variety of probing questions during the 28-minute session) asked Schnatter if he was “duped” by the people who set up the training session, and whether there was something “nefarious” at work. In response, Schnatter didn’t specifically say that he’d been “set up” in advance, but he made it clear that he believes the firm leaked the story to Forbes.com after losing its relationship with Papa John’s. (According to the original item from Forbes.com, the Casey Wasserman-owned firm known as Laundry Service parted ways with Papa John’s, due to Schnatter’s comments during the conference call.)

At one point, Meiners directly posed to Schnatter the most obvious question about this entire debacle: “Why wouldn’t you have said, ‘I think that Colonel Sanders used the ‘N’ word’ instead of actually saying the word?”

“Well, I was just talking the way that the Colonel talked,” Schnatter said. “And, again, shame on me. And it wasn’t even done in the context of, ‘That’s 40, 50, 60 years ago.’ Because even back then, again, the way I was raised, you don’t talk that way.”

But, again, he did. Even though the radio interview was peppered with vague suggestions from Schnatter that maybe he didn’t say what he said, Schnatter admits that he said something that justified all of this. And it still remains to be seen where “all of this” leads, especially as it relates to Papa John’s partnerships with multiple NFL teams.