Papa John’s Founder Claims Company Used Shaq to Cover Up Scandal

Written by David Williams.

Papa John’s pizza founder, John Schnatter, is making headlines again. He claims the company used Shaquille O’Neal to replace him to cover up their own issues. Schnatter left Papa John’s in 2018 after stepping down as CEO. This happened after tapes of private conversations with a PR company surfaced, where Schnatter was heard using the N-word, although not in a derogatory manner.

The controversy began when Schnatter mentioned that KFC’s Colonel Sanders used racial slurs without facing backlash. He said, “Colonel Sanders called blacks n******. 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.”

Schnatter apologized but stated that his words were taken 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.

The Replacement Controversy

During an interview on “Fearless” with Jason Whitlock, Schnatter explained his view that replacing him with O’Neal was a racist move. He remarked, “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.”

Despite his feelings, Schnatter acknowledged that people 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 said. He expressed disbelief at being labeled a racist, saying, “There’s no history of it, there’s no examples of it, no way.”

Representatives for O’Neal did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.

The Impact on Papa John’s

Host Jason Whitlock suggested that Papa John’s team should consider reaching out to Schnatter to repair the franchise’s image. Schnatter noted that the company’s stock had dropped about 30% in 2024, with shares falling around $20 from February to May 2024.

Schnatter believes bringing him back could benefit the company, saying, “I’m pro-Papa John’s, pro-people, and pro-humanity.” Despite having a “bit of a bad taste” from the ordeal, he doesn’t hold any animosity. He added, “It was a pretty dirty thing to do, [but] I think that would be really good for the brand and the franchisees.”

However, Schnatter remains doubtful about the company’s willingness to reach out. He said, “I’m not going to hold my breath.” He questioned if the company had enough integrity to call him, despite no good news coming from the company for the next 12 months.

The Path Forward

Schnatter explained that it would be challenging to get Papa John’s back on track with its 6,000 stores 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,” he said.

He also noted that food service margins 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.”

Schnatter believes that decisive action is required to revive Papa John’s. The company needs to focus on practical solutions and quick decision-making to overcome its current challenges.

Our Take

John Schnatter’s claims raise serious questions about Papa John’s handling of the situation. While it’s important for the company to address past mistakes, using someone as a cover-up is not the solution. Integrity and transparency are crucial for rebuilding trust and ensuring long-term success. Papa John’s should focus on making amends and improving its operations rather than relying on superficial changes.

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