He was recorded on a conference call back in 2018 using the slur but denies being racist.
Update: A rep for Schnatter emailed this statement from the former CEO: “In internal meetings with my team, we often discuss our top goals. This includes eliminating the false perceptions in the media about my comments on a conference call with my ad firm in May 2018 in which I expressed my complete disdain for racism, following which the firm reversed my meaning when leaking the tape to damage my company’s brand.
"On OANN, I tried to say, ‘Get rid of this n-word in (the) vocabulary and dictionary (of the news media), and everything else because it’s just not true,’ – reflecting my commitment to correct the false and malicious reporting by the news media about the conference call.
“It was proven in an investigative report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh that there was nothing racist in my words or actions on the conference call with our ad firm and that there has never been in my history. In fact, I said then, ‘I never used the word’ on that call, though the media failed to report that crucial qualifier when I was paraphrasing a third party.”
No one expected Papa Johns to be entangled in a racism controversy, but that's exactly what happened in 2018. In May of that year, a conference call involving then-CEO John Schnatter, the man from those memorable commercials, became the talk of the town after it was alleged and he used the n-word. There were several excuses Schnatter gave at the time as to why he used the racial slur, but in the end, he stepped down from his position after alleged urging from the board of directors. Schnatter recently sat down for an interview with the far-right, pro-Trump-supporting One America News Network where he revisited his controversy, only he made more statements that added fuel to the fire.
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Schnatter said that when he saw his name being "smeared" in headlines, he was in a "state of shock." He added, "I couldn't understand it. I mean, you have a public board who paints its chairman—complicit, passive or active—they paint the founder as a racist. They know he's not a racist. It's just unbelievable. I used to lay in bed just going, 'How did they do this?'"
He said that there have been "three goals" for the "last 20 months," and one of them surprised the public. "To get rid of this n-word in my vocabulary and dictionary and everything else because it's just not true [and] figure out how they did this and get on with my life." Schnatter wants the board to come forward to admit that they jumped to conclusions and didn't offer a proper investigation into the conference call incident before asking him to step down.
Schnatter previously maintained that he was repeating what someone else said and that his comments were taken out of context. During the call in question, Schnatter was asked how he would distance himself from racists online after calling out the NFL during the kneeling controversy. Schnatter reportedly stated that “Colonel Sanders called blacks n*ggers," but the KFC founder never received backlash, so he wasn't concerned. In December 2020, his lawyer reportedly launched an investigation into the 2018 incident to prove that Schnatter didn't use the term to degrade anyone. Check out the clip of his interview below.