An Open Letter to Papa John’s Pizza

Disclaimer—sigh:  I do not endorse racist ideologies or unnecessarily racist language, but I support free speech.  People shouldn’t go around using racial slurs, and may face professional and social consequences for doing so, even though it’s protected speech.  That said, I also believe nuance and context matter greatly.  It’s for the non-nuanced- or contextually-minded reader that I include this brief disclaimer, which I hate is even something I have to consider doing in an allegedly free country.

Pizza is a big part of modern American history, one of those beautiful examples of “cultural appropriation” that took the thin-crusted Neapolitan peasant street-food, improved upon it greatly, and made it a staple for all classes and races in the United States.

While everyone and their brother has their own opinions about the best slice and where to get it, my favorite of the “chain delivery pizza joints” (not to be confused with generally-superior ma-and-pop local pizza joints—or the Aiken-Augusta-area chain Pizza Joint) is, hand’s down, Papa John’s.

Sunday afternoon, I received “An open Letter from Papa John’s CEO, Steve Ritchie” in my e-mail.  Apparently, Papa John’s founder John Schnatter said The Forbidden Word, and has been forced out of his company.

You can read the full-text of Ritchie’s letter here.  A key line (emphasis added):

Racism and insensitive language – no matter the context – will not be tolerated at any level of our company. Period.

I began looking around to see what exactly Schnatter said.  What I found is that, yes, he used The Forbidden Word—in reference to Kentucky Fried Chicken’s beloved Colonel Sanders, on a conference call with a company training him on how to handle public relations better.

In essence, Schnatter was asked in a role-playing exercise how he would handle a situation similar to his remarks about the NFL National Anthem protests.  Schnatter had spoken out publicly about the protests, arguing—correctly—that they were hurting Papa John’s sales (Papa John’s has long been the official pizza of the NFL, so poor NFL ratings meant poor pizza sales; I’ve often enjoyed the ridiculously good deals they put out during football season).  As such, he’d already put a target on his back for progressive Social Justice Warriors.

As for the use of The Forbidden Word, Schnatter responded that Colonel Sanders used it, and then related a story about racial violence he witnessed or heard about as a boy in Indiana.  He wasn’t endorsing such violence, but intended it to show that he detested it.

Apparently, some employees of the public relations firm, Laundry Service, were offended, and—wow, wouldn’t you know it!—his use of The Forbidden Word was leaked.

Now he’s no longer working for the company he founded, and 120,000 employees (not to mention Papa John’s stockholders) are going to suffer.

I’m not holding Schnatter blameless here—he should know in the twenty-first century that a.) the Leftist mob doesn’t care about nuance, they just want another scalp and b.) you’re not allowed as a white man to say a word that thickly marinates every modern rap song—but a lot of employees, many of them black, might face layoffs because a handful of people got upset and leaked the contents of a confidential, training-based conference call.

It just goes to show that no one is safe, in any forum, at any time, ever.

In response to all this non-troversy, I took a moment to write a reply to Mr. Ritchie.  Here is the text in full:

Dear Mr. Ritchie,

Thank you for your e-mail.  I was unaware of the Papa John’s non-troversy until I received this e-mail.

From what I can tell from the news reports, John Schnatter may have been a tad careless with a culturally-taboo word, but he meant no ill-intent.

I suspect, rather, that he’s been crucified—the latest victim of such—on the cross of political correctness gone mad.  Given his past statements about NFL protestors hurting NFL ratings—and, by extension, your company’s pizza sales—he put a target on his back too tempting for the Social Justice Warriors to ignore, as he dared to make a truthful observation about one of their sacred cows.

Those statements, too, may have been unwise in a business context (even leaving out the possible racial component–and I don’t think arguing that players should abide by League rules is an inherently racist idea—it’s probably not a good idea to criticize publicly a major business partner), but they don’t warrant the kind of scorched-earth response that Mr. Schnatter has endured.

I am sorry to hear that his remarks have hurt actual people—the employees and franchisees of Papa John’s.  Surely you can agree that that’s the only tangible damage that has occurred here.  Otherwise, no person, of any race, was actually harmed by Mr. Schnatter’s use of the “N” word in an in-house conference call that, as I understand it, was a training session for avoiding future public-relations imbroglios (oops!).  In that context especially, shouldn’t the one receiving the training have additional leeway to learn without fear of some SJW ruining his life?

I hope that your employees will continue to make excellent pizza, as they have done for years, and will not be overly burdened by the kabuki theatre of your diversity initiatives.  I understand that, as a major company, you have to do your token genuflecting to the gods of multiculturalism and political-correctness, even though I’d personally rather see your Board grow some cajones and say, “Sorry for the misunderstanding and if anyone was offended, but the remarks have been taken out of context.  We serve pizza for all people, and while we don’t condone racism, we do support free speech, and believe that everyone should lighten up a bit—preferably over a slice of Papa John’s pizza.”


Tyler James Cook

The cost of doing business seems to be never uttering anything remotely controversial, ever.  Schnatter was doomed the moment he pointed out—again, correctly—that the NFL was losing viewership because of the politicized National Anthem protests.  Yes, he shouldn’t have said The Forbidden Word—even in the context of quoting someone else, it’s not allowed according to current social mores—but it was just a matter of time before the Twitter mobs, Social Justice Warriors, white knights, or overly-sensitive consultants (Laundry Service is designed to train people not to make public faux pas; surely they’ve had clueless clients before that needed teaching) brought him down.

Why can’t we just enjoy pizza without it becoming an exercise in political posturing?

4 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Papa John’s Pizza

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