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Ready to be hungry? It’s fried chicken vs. pizza, as two family dynasties fight over one man’s use of a racial slur threatens a major pizza chain. Sounds like something Shonda Rhymes would write doesn’t it? Yet John Schnatter, former chairman and CEO of Papa John's, is the man in the center of this controversy. He’s the one who dragged KFC, in particular, the deceased real-life Colonel Sanders into the mess by claiming the fried chicken king was a known racist.
"Colonel Sanders called blacks n-----s," Schnatter is alleged to have said on a conference call that was designed to deter any more PR faux pas that would make the company look bad. Last year, Papa John's lost their deal with the NFL, after Schnatter decried kneeling players as the reason that the pizza chain’s sales were slumping. Soon after that fiasco, he exited his role as CEO and the spokesperson for the company. On the call, it is also alleged by Forbes that he went further into the racist rabbit hole. Schnatter allegedly "reflected on his early life in Indiana, where, he said, 'people used to drag African-Americans from trucks until they died.' " The report went on to say that more than a few people on the call were highly offended by this, even as Schnatter said it was his way of saying racism has no place in our society.
The family of Colonel Sanders agrees that there is no place in this world for racism and they want to clear the good name of their relative. Trigg Adams, who is the grandson of Colonel Sanders defended his grandfather, "Because he's prejudiced, he's trying to say somebody else was, too. [Sanders] had absolutely no prejudice against anybody.” Adams could have left it at that, but he also wanted everyone to know what he thinks of Schnatter, “He’s a weasel.” Stakeholders in the company may agree with that assessment.
After resigning as chairman and seemingly accepting that as penance for his mistake, Schnatter now says that he should not have done that. In a strongly worded letter to the Papa John’s Board, the former chairman claims that there was no investigation into the allegations and the board jumped the gun. “The Board asked me to step down as chairman without apparently doing any investigation. I agreed, though today I believe it was a mistake to do so.” Schnatter urges the board to investigate the allegations, while also saying that they before only acted on “rumor and innuendo.”
Schnatter also presents his own stories in order to prove his point. First, he alleges that the former marketing firm for Papa John's, The Laundry Service, wanted him to have Kanye West as his co-spokesperson. Schnatter said no, "The Laundry Service leadership strongly urged that our company retain Kayne West as my co-spokesman in the television spots and other promotions. I told them that would not work because he uses the "N" word in his lyrics.” It does not appear as though Schnatter suggested anyone else for the role. Kanye West has yet to make a comment on this situation. Schnatter had more allegations for The Laundry Service.
Allegedly The Laundry Service extorted money from Papa John's. Schnatter alleges that the pizza company owed $1.3 million to the marketing firm when they decided to terminate the contract. Schnatter goes on to say that The Laundry Service asked for $6 million and threatened to release the tapes if they weren’t rewarded with the money. “Of course, we said we would pay them what was owed, but they said they wanted $6 million because they claimed some of their people had been offended by what I had said.” The corporate intrigue allegedly continued, “One of their attorneys said they would conduct a smear campaign against the company and me unless we paid them what he was asking for. Unfortunately, the company gave in to this extortion attempt and offered them $2.5 million or roughly $1.2 million more than they were owed.” The board of Papa John's has not released a statement on the matter.
Papa John's has been distancing the company from the co-founder. They have scrubbed his existence from the company by issuing new pizza boxes and removing his image from all of the stores.