Papa John says he's being scapegoated

Papa John won't leave Papa John's alone.The company has tried hard to distance itsel...

Posted: Aug 29, 2018 10:58 AM
Updated: Aug 29, 2018 10:58 AM

Papa John won't leave Papa John's alone.

The company has tried hard to distance itself from founder John Schnatter, who blamed the NFL for poor pizza sales last fall and then admitted using the N-word on a conference call this spring.

Sales slumped, and Papa John's stock declined. CEO Steve Ritchie and the current leadership blame Schnatter, who stepped down as chairman in July.

Schnatter told CNNMoney in an interview Tuesday that he's being scapegoated.

"You can't blame everything on two comments," he said. "I wish I had that kind of power, but I don't."

Instead, Schnatter pinned the company's problems on Ritchie, who became CEO in January. Schnatter described him as a poor leader who has created a culture of intimidation at Papa John's, and let quality and customer service slip.

"We need new leadership," he said. "He struggles as a CEO."

"Steve'll make a great executive somewhere else," he added. "He's just the wrong guy for the job."

He described upper management under Ritchie as vindictive and controlling.

"People right now are scared to talk," he said.

Schnatter, who is still the largest shareholder and owns almost a third of the company, insists he doesn't want to return as CEO. But he has mounted a scorched-earth campaign to drive Ritchie out of his job.

In a letter to franchisees posted to his personal website on Monday, the founder said the company is struggling because of "rot at the top."

In a statement, Papa John's called the accusations "untrue and disparaging," characterizing them as "a self-serving attempt to distract from the damaging impact his own words and actions have had on the company and our stakeholders."

"John Schnatter also publicly supported Steve Ritchie's appointment as CEO at the end of last year," the statement said.

Schnatter flipped that argument around.

"There's a little bit of a farce going on here," he said. "Steve Ritchie promises great things, and then bad things happen, and then he blames somebody else."

Schnatter's lawyer Garland Kelley said the company allowed Schnatter's comments about the NFL and his use of the racial slur to be misrepresented in the press.

"There's a critical disconnect between what John actually says and how the company permits it to be portrayed publicly," Kelley said. "We think there's a reason this is occurring."

In July, Forbes reported that Schnatter had used the N-word while on a conference call with his marketing agency.

"Colonel Sanders called blacks n-----s," Schnatter reportedly said during a training on how to avoid gaffes like the NFL comments. Forbes said Schnatter was complaining that Sanders didn't receive backlash, even though his comments were worse than Schnatter's own. KFC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

After the Forbes story broke, Schnatter apologized and resigned as chairman.

On Tuesday, he described the conversation differently.

"I simply said, 'Colonel Sanders said what he said, and we're not going to say that,'" he said, adding that he regrets saying the slur.

"What I said was anti-racist," he added. "I don't talk that way."

"I think the company has made the situation a lot worse," Schnatter said. "[The comment has] been misquoted, it's out of context, it's been portrayed in a way that's not truthful. But I'm still going to feel bad about that."

"I love my employees. I love my franchisees," he said. "For anything that hurts them, then I'm going to feel bad about that, and I do."

Schnatter also thinks his remarks about the NFL leadership have been misconstrued.

Last year, some NFL players knelt during the National Anthem to protest treatment of black Americans, particularly by police. The protests sparked a controversy, and the NFL put a final decision on the protest on hold.

"I felt like the situation was not a winning situation for the fans, the sponsors, the players and the owners," he continued.

A few months after Schnatter called out NFL leadership, Papa John's ended its NFL sponsorship. Pizza Hut took its place.

Papa John's is trying to put both comments, and Schnatter himself, behind it.

The company is stripping Schnatter's image from its marketing materials and has taken the unusual step of approving a provision that would prevent him from gaining more control of the company.

Ritchie went on a listening tour, mandated bias training for all employees and promised to increase diversity among staff. The company also launched a social campaign acknowledging customers' concerns.

Papa John's has also commissioned an investigation into its diversity and inclusion practices.

Asked whether the investigation would find any examples of misconduct by him, Schnatter said: "At the end of the day, I'm the principal owner of the company."

"They've got to point bad results on somebody, and that's probably going to be me."

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the NFL's position about players kneeling during the Anthem.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 77565

Reported Deaths: 3105
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion16304733
Lake7840283
Elkhart499287
Allen4103164
St. Joseph368183
Hamilton2941104
Vanderburgh208215
Hendricks1972109
Cass18099
Johnson1800119
Porter139139
Clark133350
Tippecanoe126312
Madison104866
LaPorte95730
Howard93865
Kosciusko87212
Bartholomew84447
Floyd83750
Marshall80123
Monroe77732
Delaware76852
Vigo75213
Dubois71812
Noble70829
Boone70446
Hancock69439
Jackson6065
Warrick60030
Shelby57228
LaGrange56910
Grant53230
Dearborn52228
Morgan49235
Henry46020
Clinton4564
Wayne40210
White38011
Montgomery36321
Lawrence35827
Harrison35524
Decatur34732
Putnam3288
Daviess28420
Miami2792
Scott27810
Jasper2592
Greene25634
Franklin24915
Gibson2434
DeKalb2424
Jennings23212
Ripley2208
Steuben2173
Fayette2057
Carroll2033
Perry18813
Posey1810
Starke1817
Orange17924
Wabash1795
Wells1782
Fulton1742
Jefferson1722
Knox1681
Whitley1606
Tipton15416
Sullivan1521
Washington1481
Clay1415
Spencer1393
Randolph1325
Huntington1303
Newton12110
Adams1202
Owen1101
Jay940
Rush914
Pulaski841
Fountain762
Brown752
Blackford662
Pike660
Ohio656
Benton630
Vermillion610
Parke591
Switzerland560
Martin500
Crawford480
Union410
Warren251
Unassigned0207

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 105426

Reported Deaths: 3755
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin19124533
Cuyahoga13999519
Hamilton9917260
Lucas5544324
Montgomery4544101
Summit3712224
Butler307064
Marion295245
Mahoning2644258
Pickaway240442
Stark1931142
Warren187739
Lorain186777
Columbiana169960
Trumbull1578111
Fairfield144933
Delaware137819
Licking136751
Clark121815
Lake115443
Wood110158
Clermont98111
Medina97736
Miami88139
Allen81746
Tuscarawas80114
Portage78063
Greene74212
Mercer66813
Belmont62826
Richland62612
Erie61928
Ashtabula58046
Madison58010
Wayne56759
Geauga56545
Ross5204
Darke42529
Huron4135
Hancock4103
Sandusky40717
Ottawa40527
Athens3642
Holmes3316
Lawrence3230
Auglaize2866
Union2771
Scioto2601
Muskingum2561
Seneca2424
Jefferson2403
Preble2192
Shelby2194
Knox2189
Putnam21517
Washington21222
Coshocton1999
Champaign1922
Morrow1852
Hardin18012
Crawford1775
Clinton1746
Highland1692
Logan1692
Perry1643
Fulton1581
Ashland1563
Defiance1554
Wyandot1559
Brown1502
Williams1393
Fayette1260
Henry1242
Hocking1229
Guernsey1217
Carroll1145
Monroe9418
Pike800
Gallia781
Jackson780
Van Wert732
Paulding720
Adams682
Meigs630
Vinton322
Morgan310
Harrison261
Noble190
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 72°
Angola
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 64°
Huntington
Broken Clouds
69° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 69°
Decatur
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 68°
Van Wert
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 68°
Weekend Storm Chances
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events