John Schnatter, the founder and former chief executive of Papa John's pizza, has been trying "to get rid of this N-word in my vocabulary" ever since he lost his role as the public face of the company for using it – more than two years ago.
Schnatter resigned as Papa John's chairman in July 2018, after an explosive report by Forbes detailed a conference call in which he "used the N-word" and "reflected on his early life in Indiana, where, he said, people used to drag African Americans from trucks until they died".
Earlier this month, Schnatter told far-right TV network OAN he was the victim of a targeted coup perpetrated by a left-leaning sports and entertainment entrepreneur, business rivals and board members looking to profit from his demise.
"I used to lay in bed just goin', 'How did they do this?'" he said. "And we've had three goals for the last 20 months: to get rid of this N-word in my vocabulary and dictionary and everything else, because it's just not true; figure out how they did this; and get on with my life."
He also suggested that the Papa John's board took advantage of his problems, even though he said they knew he wasn't a racist.
"All the stars were aligned perfectly with one motive," he said. "And that is to get rid of me."
Schnatter later sought to clarify his comments, telling news site Mediaite in a statement his team members "often discuss our top goals", including "eliminating the false perceptions in the media".
"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," he said.
He also claimed he said on the 2018 conference call that he "never used" the N-word and had simply been "paraphrasing a third party".
When news of Schnatter's use of a racist slur broke in 2018, he confirmed that "news reports attributing the use of inappropriate and hurtful language to me during a media training session regarding race are true".
He has since called his resignation a "mistake" but his face – once omnipresent in Papa John's marketing – was removed from company ads and logos.
At the time of the infamous media training session, he had already stepped down as chief executive following another blunder many saw as racist.
In November 2017, Schnatter blamed the NFL's "poor leadership" for effects on pizza sales, drawing a line between players kneeling during the anthem, to protest police brutality and racial injustice, and floundering ratings. Such rhetoric earned Papa John's an unwanted endorsement as the "official pizza of the 'alt-right'" – and incensed many customers.
His fateful training session "was designed as a role-playing exercise for Schnatter in an effort to prevent future public-relations snafus", Forbes reported.
Soon after his fall from grace, Schnatter said he was confident he could eventually return to the company's ads.
"My persona resonates with the consumer because it's authentic, it's genuine and it's the truth," he told the Associated Press.
[via The Guardian]