Former Papa John's CEO John Schnatter has issued his official apology for using a racial slur in a conference call back in May.
Schnatter is the founder and public face of Papa John's, appearing in the chain's commercials for many years. He stepped down as CEO in December, and on Wednesday Forbes reported that he has used the "N" word in a conference call with a marketing agency.
Just a few hours later, Schnatter confirmed these rumors, offering his apology in a statement sent by e-mail.
"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 gave up leadership of Papa John's in November after he had publicly blamed the company's low profits on the controversial kneeling protests in the NFL. The NFL then ended its partnership with the chain, which had been the official pizza sponsor un until that point.
Months later, in May, Schnatter was still in place as Papa Johns' company chairman, according to a report by Eater. The conference call in question was set up as a sensitivity exercise, in the hopes of teaching Schnatter how to better relate to the public. It apparently did not go as plan, as he used racial slurs freely with the callers from Laundry Services marketing firm.
The callers reportedly asked Schnatter how he planned to go about distancing himself from online racist groups. He responded "Colonel Sanders called blacks n—."
After that, Schnatter reportedly complained that KFC had not faced any backlash over Sanders' statements. He also ruminated on his early life in Indiana, stating that African-Americans had been dragged behind trucks until they died. Some people on the call told Forbes that they believed Schnatter was trying to explain how relatively harmless his actions seemed in relation to those hate crimes, but others still found his words offensive.
Laundry Service declined to comment on the story. The company was reportedly forced to lay off 10 percent of its employees after revoking its contract with the restaurant.
Papa John's began as a single pizza oven installed in Schnatter's father's tavern in Jeffersonville, Indiana. The 56-year-old grew the business into a juggernaut, expanding to multiple countries, more than 5,000 total locations and upwards of $1.7 billion in annual revenue. All the while, Schnatter appeared in the company's advertising, reciting the slogan: "better ingredients, better pizza, Papa John's."
However, starting in December the company has worked to lower its founder's profile in advertising.