Papa John’s Pizza’s Chairman John Schnatter has acknowledged using a racial slur during a May conference call and apologized Wednesday following a media report that also said the pizza chain founder had graphically described violence against minorities.
"News reports attributing the use of inappropriate and hurtful language to me during a media-training session regarding race are true," Schnatter said in a statement released Wednesday by the company.
"Regardless of the context, I apologize. Simply stated, racism has no place in our society," Schnatter’s statement said.
The media-training company working with Papa John’s opted to end its business relationship with the pizza company after the call, according to Forbes. The publication reported the objectionable behavior took place on a conference call intended as a role-playing exercise for Schnatter on avoiding racially charged mishaps in the future.
Papa John’s initially declined to confirm or deny the report, but said in an emailed statement that the company "condemns racism and any insensitive language, no matter the situation or setting."
The controversy comes only seven months after Schnatter relinquished his CEO role after criticizing National Football League players for kneeling during the national anthem, blaming the outcry surrounding their protests for slowing sales growth at Papa John’s, at the time an NFL sponsor and advertiser.
On the May call, Schnatter reportedly said the N-word while complaining that a legendary fast-food chain founder had used the word in the past without being subjected to public backlash. He also reflected on his childhood in Indiana, saying people used to drag African-Americans from trucks until they died, according to Forbes.
Shares of Papa John’s Pizza (PZZA) fell nearly 6 percent after the report, and ended Wednesday trading down 4.8 percent.
The Forbes report prompted protest from the Louisville NAACP, which said Schnatter should either step down or be removed from the University of Louisville’s board of trustees by the city’s NAACP.
— Marcus Green (@MarcusGreenWDRB) July 11, 2018
The request was complied with quickly, as Schnatter did resign from the board he’d served on for two years, its chairman, J. David Grissom, said in a statement, which also thanked the executive for his "generous" support.
"After speaking with John, I’m confident that his comments, while inappropriate, do not reflect his personal beliefs or values," said Grissom, who added the board did not condone "racism or insensitive language regardless of the setting."