It’s always fun here when John Schnatter is in the news for embarrassing reasons, because it generally means having a laugh at the “food” that Papa John’s calls “pizza” and sells all over America, including with the help of former franchisee Peyton Manning, who got out when the getting out was good. Really good, it turns out, because Schnatter stepped down as Papa John’s chairman this week after using a racial slur in a conference call.
This latest embarrassment for a brand whose very existence is one spurred Major League Baseball to suspend one of the dumbest corporate promotions in sports, the “Papa Slam,” which granted 40% off the price of pizza to fans everywhere, anytime a player hit a grand slam – and resulted in “Papa Slam” being used repeatedly on the official website of a major professional sports league. The Baltimore Orioles, no strangers to embarrassment themselves in 2018, suspended their efforts to poison fans with 50% Papa John’s discounts every time the team scores five or more runs – a promotion activated 29 times in 93 games this year. The Kansas City Royals also stepped away from Papa John’s, as did the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays.
If this were about a league and some of its teams not wanting to associate with the degradation of the good name of pizza, that would be fine, albeit an extremely strangely-timed moment for such a move. It’s not, of course.
“The Marlins are committed to an inclusive environment for all of our fans,” the Marlins said in their brief statement announcing the suspension of Papa John’s-related activities. “Mr. Schnatter’s derogatory and insensitive comments are not at all reflective of the values of our organization. As such, the Marlins are immediately suspending our relationship and promotions with the Papa John’s brand.”
Did the Marlins just now find out that Schnatter is a racist? The guy who last year was blaming kneeling NFL players for his company’s laggard earnings? Oh, no, it was the “derogatory and insensitive comments” – the fact that he said one particular no-no word. Saying the quiet part out loud is not the Marlins Way – the Marlins Way, for those curious, is taking up corporate residence in the British Virgin Islands, then revoking the credentials of the reporter who breaks that story.
This is all about perception of outrage, which in general is fine and the way that companies operate all the time. It’s just that this one doesn’t make any sense. All of these teams, and MLB itself, suspended relationships with Papa John’s after Schnatter’s ouster as chairman. Are the Seattle Mariners going to need a new car sponsorship because Henry Ford was buddy-buddy with Hitler?
No, and late Thursday evening, the Houston Astros showed that it’s possible to get this right – at least insofar as standing behind Papa John’s as a corporate partner can be described as right. Their statement condemned Schnatter, but noted that the Astros “are proud of our 10-year partnership with Houston Pizza Venture, a local Houston business and owner of the local franchisees. We feel confident that the local franchisees and their employees share the Astros commitment to diversity and inclusiveness.”
The Astros, a well-run organization that is the defending World Series champion, also included a statement from Houston Pizza Venture president Keith Sullins: “I want everyone in the city of Houston to know that Mr. Schnatter’s statements are indefensible and in no way represent the views of anyone in our company,” which, just given math and sample sizes, cannot possibly be true, but at least reads well.
The steps here are supposed to be: 1. Schnatter finally slips and says the N-word out loud.; 2. MLB and other partners of Papa John’s bring pressure to bear.; 3. Papa John’s forces its founder out the door. But that’s largely not how it happened this week , which is incredibly strange. Incredibly, the National Football League was ahead of the curve on this one, cutting ties with Papa John’s back in February, months before Schnatter finally showed his ass – which will, done literally, get you booted from a Papa John’s outlet, while, done figuratively, will get you booted from the boardroom.
Maybe doing things out of order makes some sense here. Maybe it explains how Papa John’s prepares its products and manages to ruin the experience of pizza every day for so many people. Maybe it’s just a confluence of the ineptitude of multiple gigantic business interests, leaving room to wonder once again how some people have managed to get ahead as far as they have in this world, like the pizza-faking racist who’s now out of a job.