Papa John's Founder Admits Using N-Word But Claims 'It Wasn't a Slur'

Papa John's founder John Schnatter said Saturday his use of the n-word during a conference call in May was not technically a slur.

In an interview, Schnatter defended himself from accusations of racism that incurred following his slur. The 56-year-old reportedly used the word during a conference call with a marketing firm, which immediately terminated its contract with Papa John's. The embattled founder has been trying to control the damage ever since, but on Saturday he told reporters from San Francisco's KRON 4 that he was not guilty of racism.

"It wasn't a slur," he said. "It was a social strategy and media planning and training and I repeated something that somebody else said and said, 'We're not going to say that. We don't use that kind of language or vocabulary.'"

Schnatter accepted responsibility for hurt feelings while firmly dismissing the actions that hurt them.

"Sure it got taken out of context, and sure it got twisted, but that doesn't matter," he said. "I hurt people's feelings. That's what matters here. And for that, I'm sorry and I'm disappointed in myself that something like that could happen."

Schnatter had stepped down as CEO in December after saying the NFL's kneeling protests hurt sales, after which the league cut ties with the chain. The firm was hired to help him re-evaluate how he relates to the public. According to a report by Forbes, he was attempting to minimize the hurtfulness of those comments when he got himself into even deeper trouble.

"Colonel Sanders called blacks n—," he reportedly said. On the call, Schnatter also reflected on his childhood in Indiana, where he said that people used to drag African-Americans behind trucks until they died. While witnesses said he apparently meant to put his own remarks in a broader context, the real effect was to shock and upset everyone.

On Saturday, Schnatter accused the agency of trying to extort him. He claimed that the company had asked him for $6 million to keep the contents of their call quiet. When he refused, he said the company went public for its own profit.

"So, yeah they tried to extort us and we held firm. They took what I said and they ran to Forbes and Forbes printed it and it went viral," he said.

On Friday, Schnatter said in an interview on Louisville radio station WHAS that he was pressured to use the N-word during the conference call.

"The agency was promoting that vocabulary … They pushed me. And it upset me," he told host Terry Meiners, the New York Post reported. "It's caused a lot of grief for my community, for my university. My employees are distraught, they're crushed, and it's all because I was sloppy and I wasn't as sensitive. It's the same mistake I made on the NFL comments."


Schnatter had already dropped the title of CEO of the restaurant chain, which began as a single second-hand pizza oven in the back of his father's bar. After the Forbes article on Wednesday, he stepped down as the company's chairman as well.

In the aftermath, the chain said it would remove the 56-year-old executive's likeness from its logo and promotional materials. Major League Baseball discontinued its Papa Slam promotion with the Louisville, Kentucky-based company, and at least 12 MLB teams dropped local sponsorships. Also, the University of Louisville said it would remove Schnatter's name from its football stadium.