John Schnatter, founder of Papa John’s | Photo by Stephen George

This story has been updated.

Papa John’s founder and University of Louisville trustee John Schnatter has acknowledged using the N-word on a company conference call, confirming a report by Forbes on Wednesday morning.

Forbes reported that the conference call in May was arranged by Papa John’s executives and a marketing agency as a role-playing exercise for Schnatter to learn to avoid more public-relations problems, such as his remarks last year about NFL players protesting racism by kneeling during the national anthem.

Schnatter is reported to have downplayed the significance of his NFL remarks last year on the conference call, and then said that “Colonel Sanders called blacks n—–s” without facing any public backlash.

Papa John’s sent a statement to Forbes shortly after publication that did not dispute its reporting about the conference call, but said the company “condemns racism and any insensitive language, no matter the situation or setting … We take great pride in the diversity of the Papa John’s family, though diversity and inclusion is an area we will continue to strive to do better.”

Wednesday afternoon, Schnatter released a statement confirming the Forbes story and apologizing.

“News reports attributing the use of inappropriate and hurtful language to me during a media training session regarding race are true,” said Schnatter. “Regardless of the context, I apologize. Simply stated, racism has no place in our society.”

UofL spokesman John Karman told Insider Louisville that the university is currently reviewing the Forbes story, but did not yet have a statement from President Neeli Bendapudi and the trustees chairman J. David Grissom.

Forbes reported that while he apparently intended for his remarks to convey antipathy to racism, multiple individuals on the call found Schnatter’s comments to be offensive, causing the president of the marketing agency to terminate its contract with Papa John’s.

A spokeswoman for this marketing company, Laundry Service, told Insider that they have no comment on the Forbes story.

Schnatter and his company faced public backlash last November after the Papa John’s founder blamed its declining sales on the NFL protests, criticizing owners for not stopping them. He would step down from his position as CEO less than two months later — though he remains board chairman — and Papa John’s ended its sponsorship of the NFL in February.

Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]


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