Papa John's Founder

John Schnatter (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

You’ve seen the commercials. Their slogan is “Better ingredients, better pizza” and they’ve sold a boatload of them and then some, all over the country. Now I’m a capitalist at heart, and while I always wondered how a pie that tastes that terrible is so popular, it’s impressive when you think about how founder John Schnatter developed 4,700 locations in the United States.

As he grew and the money cascaded in, he spread it around throughout the ranks of professional sports, and became buddies with the commissioners of the NFL, NBA, and MLB, as well as their marquee players. It was good to be Papa, and he did more than just wet the beak of those around him. In exchange, he received a seat at the big boy’s table at several universities, as well as professional sports boardrooms. Accordingly, he plastered his logo anywhere he wanted in their stadiums, in exchange for the staggering sums of money he bestowed upon them for selling a large pepperoni bearing his company’s name at their respective venues. Everybody made money.

But as his business dealings grew even more, Schnatter’s true colors would emerge and things would get ugly. First there were pictures of him intoxicated beyond belief at University of Louisville football games, you know, in the very stadium he purchased the naming rights to. That was quickly overlooked and the business relationship moved ahead. Later, he would stun both his investors and the NFL when he claimed that those players who kneeled during the national anthem before NFL games to protest social injustice, were out of control and caused the official pizza of the NFL problems at the cash register. Forget about their cause. Papa was losing revenue in his opinion, and he called out Roger Goodell to do something about it.

In that process, Papa found out just how tough the 900-pound gorilla deemed the NFL can be, and he lost out when Goodell terminated their deal over his claims and quickly shoehorned Pizza Hut into the coveted league sponsorship, leaving Schnatter to cut deals with individual teams, which meant those who were willing to look the other way could still make money. As pathetic as that was, it was convenient for those who had prospered with Papa historically and were willing to ride out the storm for more legal tender.

However, things would spiral completely out of control when Forbes magazine reported that Schnatter used a deplorable racial epitaph during a corporate conference call. While he confirmed the incident, he also bizarrely claimed it was part of a media training exercise. While he resigned from the board as chairman, and as a trustee at the University of Louisville, he maintained a seat on the Papa John’s board. Despite owning 30 percent of the company stock, Schnatter was asked to step aside totally and then filed a lawsuit against the corporation, in an attempt to take control of the company he founded and made successful. More drama, but no apologies.

The biggest question remaining is why anyone would want Papa John’s money at this stage and that’s where the situation really hits home. Currently, the Indiana Pacers, the Indianapolis Colts, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway all continue to do business with Papa John’s, and in the process send a clear and concise message that conflicts with the press releases they issued denouncing Schnatter’s actions, but not his money. All the agreements fostered by the aforementioned have clauses allowing them to opt out, so what in the world is keeping the “big three” from doing just that? That’s easy, as it’s obviously the money garnered from their lucrative business arrangements. By continuing to do such, these storied institutions are sending a clear message to the communities from which they take tax money. It’s fine to take their cash as long as we issue a disclaimer, right? 

That in itself is just a bit too convenient, and one doesn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to crack the case. Purdue and Ball State have given Papa the heave-ho, and it’s now time for the Pacers, Colts, and IMS to tell him, “No thanks.” It’s nothing less than a slap in the face to our community to continue this sordid business relationship and further delay of such simply validates their unacceptable stance. According to Papa John’s, it only takes a 30 minutes to get one of their pizzas to your door. Conversely, it should only take about 30 seconds for the stewards of our sport franchises and super speedway to tell Papa to get lost. Call today and ask what’s taking so long for them to simply do the right thing and send a message, albeit a late one, that they won’t tolerate hate in exchange for large sums of money and really shoddy pizza. 


Danny Bridges, who’d rather eat rocks than Papa John’s, can be reached at 317-370-8447 or

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