In a surprising development last week, the founder and CEO of Papa John’s Pizza, John Schnatter, was forced to resign after it emerged that he’d used the n-word in a conference call in May. Though the reporting from Forbes confirmed that Schnatter had only used the word to quote others, the offense was deemed heinous enough to send him packing.
Now, however, the plot has thickened. Schnatter told WLKY News this weekend that there’s more to the story than people have yet heard. While he makes no excuses for his use of the racial slur, Schnatter insists that he only used it as an example of what others had said in the past – he was not using it in a contemporary context, and he was certainly not calling anyone the n-word himself. Furthermore, he told the news outlet that the media agency on the call tried to blackmail him for $6 million to keep his use of the word under wraps.
“It doesn’t matter the context,” Schnatter acknowledged. “The fact of the matter is that word hurts people. It was a strategy session, it was training. I was just repeating what somebody else said. I was actually kind of provoked a little bit.”
According to Schnatter, the marketing agency on the call – Laundry Service – was trying to get Papa John’s to partner up with an individual (or company? It’s not clear) that had used the word. Schnatter balked, saying he was not going to partner his restaurant with that kind of entity and risk destroying the pizza chain’s reputation.
“No we’re not going to be part of any such thing,” Schnatter said during the conference call. “So-and-so used the n-word, and we don’t use the n-word, and we’re not gonna use the n-word. And that’s it.”
Except, of course, he apparently used the actual word.
It was this usage that Laundry Service later took advantage of. “They tried to extort us,” Schnatter told WLKY. “They wanted 6 million dollars to make it go away. The words were, ‘If I don’t get my effing money, I’m gonna bury the founder,’ said one of the executives.”
Schnatter told them point blank: “I’m not for sale.”
Immediately, the company then took their story to Forbes and effectively ruined Schnatter’s career.
Well, this certainly puts a new spin on a story where everyone was ready to just throw Schnatter under the bus and conclude he’s some kind of incorrigible racist who got what he deserved.
Whether or not he had any business using the n-word in that or any other context, we can debate that. But did he really need to resign? Is it that serious an offense? Should we not be more concerned about an environment where merely quoting that word is such a terrible thing that a company thought they could extract $6 million out of the guy because they caught it on tape?