Papa John's CEO Steve Ritchie Responds to John Schnatter's 'Offensive' Comments

Papa John's CEO Steve Ritchie tried to do some damage control after founder John Schnatter admitted to using the n-word during a conference call in May.

In an open letter to customers, Ritchie called Schnatter's comments "offensive" and stressed that they do not represent his own views.

"This past week was the hardest week in my 22 years with Papa John's. I know the words of John Schnatter were offensive, and nothing pains me more than knowing they hurt you," Ritchie wrote. "To be clear, those words in no way represent my views or the values of our company. As the leader of Papa John's, I'm sorry. Racism and insensitive language - no matter the context - will not be tolerated at any level of our company. Period."

The company plans to hire "outside experts" to look into the company's culture, diversity and inclusion practices to "allow us to identify our strengths and weaknesses. We will then set clear goals to do better," Ritchie wrote.

Senior executives will also tour the country to visit franchises and speak to employees about a "path to move forward."

"We'll be transparent with you along the way. We want you to hold us accountable. I will personally be leading this effort because there is nothing more important for Papa John's right now," Ritche wrote. "We want to regain your trust, and we will work hard to earn it. I know this will take time."

The scandal began when Forbes reported on a May conference call between Papa John's executives and marketing agency Laundry Service that was described as a "role-playing exercise" to stop future public relations disasters.

At one point, Schattner complained that KFC's Colonel Sanders "called blacks n–" and did not face public criticism. People on the call considered his remarks offensive, sources told Forbes.

Schnatter later confirmed the report and agreed to resign as chairman.

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

However, during an interview with WLKY in Louisville, Schnatter said his use of the n-word was not a slur.

"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 said, adding that his remarks were taken out of context.

"Sure it got taken out of context, and sure it got twisted, but that doesn't matter," Schnatter 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."

In an interview with WHAS in Louisville, Schnatter said he felt pressured to use the n-word during the conference call.

“It’s caused a lot of grief for my community, for my university,” Schnatter said. “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.”

The "NFL comments" Schnatter referred to came in November, when he blamed NFL players' protests of police brutality during the National Anthem hurt Papa John's sales. In December, Schnatter stepped down as CEO and the NFL dropped Papa John's as a corporate sponsor two months later.

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A day after cutting ties with Papa John's, the NFL made Pizza Hut its new pizza partner.

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