Papa John’s Founder John Schnatter Slams Cancel Culture: ‘Hurts Our Freedom’

by Suzanne Halliburton

John Schnatter, the creator of the Papa John’s pizza chain, believes he was the first victim of so-called cancel culture.

What to Know:

  • John Schnatter had to resign as Papa John CEO in 2018 after he complained about the NFL kneeling. Then, he used a racial slur in a PR training conference call.
  • Schnatter said people should get ahead of cancel culture narrative
  • Schnatter is starting to speak more at conservative events

Now, he’s trying to rehabilitate that image. “The problem with cancel culture is it hurts our freedom, especially our freedom of speech,” the Papa John founder told Fox. “And there’s a reason why that’s the First Amendment to the Constitution. And for those reasons, we were the first ones to take the hit… We were cancel culture before anybody knew what the heck it was.”

Here’s some background. Schnatter was forced to resign as CEO of his own company in 2018. That was after he used a racial slur on a conference call with Papa John executives and members of a marketing agency. Months before, Schnatter complained that the company’s association with the NFL caused pizza sales to drop. At the time, Papa John was a significant corporate sponsor with the NFL. Schnatter said he didn’t think the NFL was doing enough to stop Black players from kneeling for the national anthem.

Back in 2018, Schnatter confirmed that he used the racial slur in an emailed statement he sent to Forbes. He resigned as chairman of Papa John’s later that day.  

Papa John Founder Said Fight Cancel Culture Narrative

He’s starting to become more vocal again, particularly in conservative circles. He told Fox that people should not let a false narrative solidify.

“Get on it,” Schnatter said. “Squash it before that false narrative gets out because journalistic integrity, especially from the mainstream media, is a thing of the past. It’s a thing of the past. And people will believe it when it’s not true. So, if it’s false, set the record straight and squash it early on, so you don’t let it grow and infect your future reputation.

“That’s a beautiful thing about free markets is that people sooner or later are going to always gravitate towards the facts, the analytics and the truth,” he said. “The left has nothing to stand on. Their ideology doesn’t work, and they’re dishonest about it. The right has liberty, freedoms, work ethic, family. The right has an abundance of good issues that are pro-American, pro-worker and bring everybody’s level of happiness and prosperity up.”

Forbes reported that Schnatter was on the conference call as a role-playing exercise on what to say to avert future PR issues. Forbes said Schnatter was asked how he could “distance” himself from online racist groups. And Forbes said that Schnatter responded by downplaying what he said about the NFL. He said “Colonel Sanders called blacks n—–s,” adding that Colonel Sanders never faced public backlash.

In a radio interview after the conference call, Schnatter also brought up Colonel Sanders and his alleged use of racial slurs. This also caused a stir with the family of Colonel Harland Sanders, who founded Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1952. He died in 1980.

Schnatter spoke at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) last month in Florida. The Papa John founder criticized President Joe Biden, saying he was responsible for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“When you cut off our pipeline, and you open up Russia, and you give the guys $750 billion. It looks to me like it’s pretty intentional. But what a great smokescreen, what a great distraction from all the real issues here that affect Americans.”