Papa John's founder John Schnatter spoke out for the first time on Friday after a new wave of controversy surrounding his use of the N-word during a recent company conference call, revealing his side of the story.
Schnatter's comments come as the company he founded purges him from its marketing and promotional materials, while sports teams and the University of Louisville sever their relationships with the pizza mogul.
Forbes, which broke the news of Schnatter's comments, reported on Wednesday that Schnatter used the racial slur during a May conference call with Papa John's executives and a marketing agency, which the pizza chain hired to prepare company executives for public exchanges.
What did Schnatter say?
According to Schnatter, who has since apologized for using the racial epithet, his comments were taken out of context. Still, he told WHAS-AM he understands the gravity of the situation and why so many are hurt by what he said.
"Regardless of the context, you just can't use that kind of vocabulary," Schnatter said.
However, Schnatter revealed he was "pushed" to use the N-word.
"Believe it or not, the agency was promoting that vocabulary," Schnatter said. "I made it real clear. 'Listen, we're not going to go there. We're not going to talk about this.' They pushed me. And it upset me. I said, 'Listen, other people have used that word. I don't, and will not use that word and people at Papa John's don't use that.'"
"That was the comment. [The agency] actually wanted to get into that vocabulary," Schnatter explained.
When asked by the radio host whether or not he was "duped" into using the N-word, Schnatter reiterated he felt pushed to use it after instructing the agency he did not want to dive into racial issues.
Schnatter also revealed the marketing agency was upset with Papa John's because the pizza chain had recently severed ties with the company, which previously helped Papa John's with media buys. The company then ran his comments to Forbes, Schnatter said.
In the end, even if "provoked" to use racially insensitive language, Schnatter said blame for the comment falls on his shoulders.
"I can’t talk like that even if it’s confidential and it’s behind closed doors,” he said. “I did it. And I own it. And I’m sorry. And I’m sick about it, frankly."
In the wake of the fallout, Schnatter tendered his resignation as chairman of Papa John's board of directors. He stepped down as company CEO last year after criticizing the NFL national anthem protests.
In a letter to Papa John's customers on Friday, CEO Steve Ritchie said the company will work to "regain trust" with its customers moving forward.
An open letter from Steve Ritchie, Papa John’s CEO https://t.co/YwKzIIjyF1 https://t.co/ldTnxJ7DzZ— Papa John's Pizza (@Papa John's Pizza) 1531516749.0