- Earlier this month, Papa John’s announced it would provide $US2,000 scholarships for 10 students at Simmons College, a historically black college in Louisville, Kentucky.
- Not long after they made that offer, John Schnatter, Papa Johns’ founder who resigned last year in disgrace over racist comments, announced he was preparing to give the same college a $US1 million gift.
- The original Papa John’s scholarship was called off not long after Schnatter made his announcement.
- Papa John’s claimed the school had rejected its scholarship, but officials from the school said the pizza chain was to blame. They said the school was caught in a strange feud between the company and its former owner.
- After a back forth, Papa John’s announced this week it would still provide the scholarship and it increased the total funds to $US30,000 for 15 students.
In a bizarre end to what appears to have been a three-way feud between Papa John’s, its disgraced founder and a historically black college in Kentucky, the pizza chain will donate $US30,000 to Simmons College in scholarship funds that will benefit 15 students.
The scholarship money comes two weeks after Papa Johns’ founder, John Schnatter, offered to donate $US1 million to the college, a move that was seen by some at the school as an attempt to “pay off the black community.” Schnatter resigned from Papa John’s last year after sparking controversy for his use of offensive racial slurs. The prospect of being associated with the ousted founder’s donation had caused unrest from Papa John’s and left the scholarship’s fate unclear for weeks.
Earlier this month the Louisville, Kentucky, based pizza franchise announced it would offer $US2,000 worth of scholarship funds to 10 students at Simmons College, a historically black school in the area. Not long after that initial officer, Schnatter announced he was preparing to give the school a $US1 million gift.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — John Schnatter, founder of Papa John’s, announced a $1 million gift to HBCU Simmons College of Kentucky today (Sept. 4), declaring, “Supporting Simmons College is a better investment to build a better community." @SCKY_1879 https://t.co/9wN2umaywL pic.twitter.com/UbTTITT95f
— Word&Way (@WordandWay) September 4, 2019
While Schnatter’s donation was embraced by senior officials at the school – including its president, Kevin Cosby – others saw it as a clear attempt by Schnatter to use the school to distance himself from his past racist comments. In 2018, Schnatter admitted tp using the N-word on a company conference call. In an interview with The Courier Journal, a former Simmons College board member said the Schnatter gift amounted to a bribe.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what’s going on,” Sutton told The Courier Journal. “(Schnatter) is trying to pay off the black community with 30 pieces of silver.”
Papa John’s scholarship was abruptly called off following Schnatter’s gift
Schnatter’s donation proposal led to the cancellation of the pizza chain’s scholarship, but neither Papa John’s nor Simmons College would initially admit who called it off. Officials at Simmons claimed the pizza company had abruptly turned them down.
“I was stunned when I was told on September 11 by an executive at Papa John’s that scholarships promised to our students were being revoked because of the donation that was made to Simmons from the founder and former CEO of Papa John’s International,” Simmons College president Kevin Cosby told WHAS 11.
Cosby said Papa John’s decided to pull its scholarship offer when they caught wind of Schnatter’s attempted $US1 million donation. This reversal, according to the school’s president, left the potential scholarship recipients stranded.
“Doing something that will help students in ways you couldn’t imagine and then taking it back out of anger is unprofessional,” Jalen Beene, one of the potential scholarship recipients said in an interview with WHAS 11.
“We feel like we are literally in the middle of crossfire. There definitely is some bad blood.”
In a statement provided to Fox 19, Simmons College public relations and marketing director Krystal Goodner said the school had found themselves trapped in a feud between Papa John’s and its former founder.
“Let’s not mince words,” Goodner said. “The reason we’re here is because of the million-dollar donation made by John Schnatter. That definitely ruffled some feathers on Papa John’s situation. We feel like we are literally in the middle of crossfire. There definitely is some bad blood.”
The pizza chain disputed the school’s characterization of events and blamed a Simmons officials for killing the scholarship. In an interview with WHAS 11, Papa John’s said they had received an email from the school’s director of development, Von Purdy, on the same day as Schnatter’s donation, telling the company that the school did not accept scholarships. The Courier Journal obtained a copy of that email.
“In light of recent news, it is best to decline your scholarship at this time and perhaps look at other ways to partner in the future,” Purdy wrote in the email.
In a press conference at the school late last week, Purdy walked back that comment and claimed she had intended to write delay rather than decline.
The feud is resolved with $US30,000 payment from Papa Johns
Nearly two weeks later, it appears the conflict is coming to an end. According to Fox Business, Papa John’s announced it would follow through with the scholarship but would increase the amount by $US10,000. Now the funds, which are intended to help students pay for living expenses, will reach a total $US30,000 divided among 15 students.
In an email to the school obtained by Fox Business, Papa John’s acknowledged that conversation over Schnatter, and how the company could be perceived, played a crucial role in the hectic miscommunication.
“We completely understand the conflict of interest here between John Schnatter’s donation to Simmons and the relationship between the Papa John’s brand and the college,” Victoria Russell Papa John’s Chief of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion wrote. “Thank you for being proactive in sending this and clearly separating John and the brand.”
Since his donation announcement on September 5, Schnatter has remained notably quiet.
- Read more:
- The disgraced owner of Papa John’s donated $US1 million to a historically black college, but critics say he’s ‘trying to pay off the black community’
- Papa John’s controversial founder reportedly used the N-word on a conference call about the chain’s response to the NFL’s national anthem protests
- Papa John’s is reportedly purging its stores of all signs of its founder
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