Schnatter report vindicates him, indicts Papa John’s, marketing firm

A former FBI director and federal judge has released a 14-page investigative report into the conduct of Papa John’s International Inc. founder and former CEO John Schnatter.

Former FBI head Louis Freeh released the report on Schnatter’s personal and professional conduct Tuesday. The report, commissioned by Schnatter’s attorneys in summer 2019, is the outcome of a year-long investigation into two key events: the Papa John’s and National Football League controversy of 2017 and the release of a recording of Schnatter using a racial slur during a media training session in 2018.

According to a news release, the investigation addressed comments Schnatter made about the NFL in an earnings call in 2017, and determined that he was “falsely construed as critici[zing] the players’ protests” in print and social media, when in fact he was describing “a lack of leadership in failing to resolve the matter to both the players’ and owners’ satisfaction.”

The 2018 media training session was the primary focus of the investigation, the release continued, and Freeh concluded that Schnatter “stress[ed] his disdain for racism” in the meeting and “at no time … express[ed] any beliefs that could be described as bigoted or intolerant.”

Although Schnatter “quoted a third party’s alleged use of the n-word” in order to separate himself from another company founder regarding attitudes on race, he did not “use the word as a racial slur nor was it directed at any person or group,” Freeh continued.

“The news media falsely and repeatedly reported allegations of racial bias involving John Schnatter, ignoring and failing to report critical exculpatory facts relating to both incidents,” Freeh said in the release. “Our investigation determined that Mr. Schnatter was quoting someone else’s use of the word to emphasize that he felt a double-standard had been applied against him.”

Freeh served as the head of the FBI from 1993-2001. After leaving the FBI, Freeh has worked as an attorney in private practice and has conducted several other investigations, including Penn State’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky sexual-abuse case.

Additionally, Freeh claims in the report that Papa John’s did not “counter the public relations ‘feeding frenzy’ which produced the false narrative” about Schnatter following the 2017 earnings call.

The report also cites “a poorly drafted statement recommended by company representatives,” attributed to Schnatter and released to the media after the 2018 crisis. The statement failed to “convey the context of the conference call,” effectively allowing his comments to be “equated …to racism,” the report concluded.

Schnatter’s lawsuit against Wasserman Media Group and 247 Group LLC is ongoing. The lawsuit claims that 247 Group, doing business as Laundry Service, breached a contract by allegedly recording and leaking information from the May 2018 call to Forbes that ultimately led to further media fallout and Schnatter’s separation from Papa John’s.

The investigation included several witness interviews, including Samuel Tolbert Jr., president of the National Baptist Convention of America, Kevin Cosby, president of Simmons College in Louisville, and Simon Smith, former vice president of North American Franchise Operations at Papa John’s.

Notably, Schnatter donated $1 million to Simmons College in September 2019, and announced he would fund a three-story lodging facility for the National Baptist Convention of America’s retreat center in Louisville later that same month.

You can read Schnatter’s response to the investigation below:

“Judge Freeh’s investigation coincides with what I have said all along — that my comments in May 2018, which clearly reflected my total disdain for racism, were reversed and mischaracterized by the media to damage my reputation and harm the company I founded, built, and love.

“The report sets the record straight about the media attacks that delivered tremendous economic harm to the franchisees and employees of Papa John’s. It also shows that the Papa John’s leadership failed to protect me as the founder and face of the brand. This fueled the false race narrative surrounding my comments and the attacks against me by the media.

“While Judge Freeh’s report is important for detailing the facts of what really happened, there’s a lot more of the story to come. For instance, we now know unequivocally through my lawsuit that the effort to destroy my character was a malicious setup perpetrated by executives at the Papa John’s ad firm, Laundry Service, actively supported by certain board members of Papa John’s International. There’s much more to be revealed in the near future about their motives and ill intent.”

John Schnatter Statement, Marketwatch; Dec. 8, 2020

To read the report as prepared by Freeh Group International Solutions, go to: https://papajohnschnatter.report/

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