Home / Sports / MLB teams suspend ties with Papa John's after founder's admission of n-word use

MLB teams suspend ties with Papa John's after founder's admission of n-word use

“Regardless of the context, I apologize,” Papa John’s founder John Schnatter said Wednesday. (Timothy D. Easley/AP)

The fallout from Papa John’s founder John Schnatter’s admission that he used the n-word continued Thursday, as several MLB teams suspended their ties with the pizza chain. Schnatter, 56, apologized for his comments Wednesday and resigned as chairman of the board of the company, following a Forbes report about remarks he made in May that he acknowledged was accurate.

“Mr. Schnatter’s derogatory and insensitive comments are not at all reflective of the values of our organization,” the Miami Marlins said in announcing they were suspending their “relationship and promotion with the Papa John’s brand.” Under their arrangement, if the Marlins scored five runs in a game, the company would offer a promo code giving patrons 50 percent off a pizza the next day.

The Miami Herald reported that the Marlins were also closing the Papa John’s concession stand at their stadium. Their neighbors to the west, the Tampa Bay Rays, suspended a promotion in which fans could get half-price pies from the chain if the team scored at least six runs, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Other teams that halted their own promotions with company included the Kansas City Royals, the Seattle Mariners, and, per the Baltimore Sun, the Baltimore Orioles.

“We are taking a pause on the Papa John’s 5 run offer,” the Royals said (via KCTV). “We’re working with MLB and Papa John’s and will reassess during the all-star break and decide how to proceed from there.”

The teams were following the lead of Major League Baseball, which, as its own entity, had a promotion with Papa John’s in which fans could get a 40 percent discount on pizzas the day after players hit grand slams. MLB moved quickly Wednesday to put that arrangement on indefinite hold, according to Yahoo Sports, after the events earlier in the day, which included Schnatter apologizing for his “use of inappropriate and hurtful language … during a media training session regarding race.”

“Regardless of the context, I apologize,” Schnatter said. “Simply stated, racism has no place in our society.”

According to the Forbes report, Schnatter and other Papa John’s executives were on a call with a marketing agency hired by the company to help him return to the public eye. The entrepreneur, familiar to football fans and others from his central presence in the chain’s advertising campaigns, was compelled to lay low after blaming his company’s disappointing sales last fall on protests by NFL players during the national anthem.

On the call, Schnatter reportedly claimed that “Colonel Sanders called blacks n—–s” but didn’t face the same backlash that he had. Later, ostensibly to display his opposition to racism, Schnatter talked about how black people had been dragged behind trucks to their deaths when he was growing up in Indiana. The marketing agency proceeded to drop Papa John’s as a client, even at significant financial cost, according to Forbes. After the comments were published, Schnatter resigned as the chairman of the board of his company.

Schnatter, who had stepped down as the CEO of Papa John’s in January following his NFL remarks, also resigned Wednesday from the Board of Trustees of the University of Louisville, which he attended and to which he has been a major donor. The local chapter of the NAACP had called on him to “step down … or be removed.”

Louisville’s football team plays in Papa John’s Cardinals Stadium, under a two-decade-old arrangement in which Schnatter reportedly personally holds the naming rights. That could make it difficult for the school to change the stadium name, should it decide it wants to, but nonetheless two members of the team demanded Thursday that Louisville do just that.

A professional soccer team in that area with a Papa John’s sponsorship, Louisville City FC, said (via the Louisville Courier-Journal) that it was “evaluating the situation and evaluating our options internally.” A representative of the Orlando Magic, which offers fans discounts on the company’s pizza, told the Orlando Sentinel, “We in no way, shape or form condone the reported actions and are monitoring the situation in light of the fact that the company’s chairman has been replaced.”

One MLB team announced Thursday that it was maintaining its relationship with Papa John’s. “We are glad that at a national level, Papa John’s took swift action to deal with the issue,” said the Arizona Diamondbacks (via ABC15), whose victories provide their fans with opportunities to purchase half-price pizzas. “From our team standpoint, our partnership is with local owner/operators in Phoenix and completely separate from the national company. That promotion will continue.”

The Houston Astros also cited their arrangement with a local operator of Papa John’s franchises. The team did not indicate if it would sever that relationship but said it was “incredibly disappointed with the statements made by Papa John’s founder John Schnatter.”

“We do not condone discrimination in any context and his comments do not reflect the mission, vision and values of our organization,” the Astros said in a statement (via the Houston Chronicle). Noting that it was “proud” of its “10-year partnership” with the Houston-based operator, the team added, “We feel confident that the local franchisees and their employees share the Astros’ commitment to diversity and inclusiveness.”

A host of Washington-area teams other than the Orioles have promotional arrangements with Papa John’s, to the point that a website tracks daily whether a pizza discount has been triggered. The teams include the Nationals, the Capitals, the Wizards, the Redskins and the D.C. Breeze, a men’s ultimate team.

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