MLB Suspends Relationship with Papa John’s Pizza

JULY 11: A Papa John's restaurant in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
JULY 11: A Papa John's restaurant in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) /

Major League Baseball announced Wednesday evening that they were terminating their relationship with Papa John’s. What exactly happened?

According to Mike Oz of Yahoo! Sports, “Major League Baseball has indefinitely suspended its Papa Slam promotion with Papa John’s Pizza.” The news comes amidst reports that the 56-year-old pizza chain’s founder John Schnatter used the “n-word” on a conference call. However, this should not be a huge surprise.  Schnatter’s history may not have a known prior use of a racial slur, but he has incrementally shown a one-sided view of America.

Schnatter left his father’s bar to open a pizzeria in 1984 with a plan he got from a marketing major who lived nearby. The restaurant took off and has become the third-largest pizza chain in the country.

As Papa John’s has become a household name, Schnatter has as well.  Schnatter has been one of the few CEOs to star in their own companies’ ad campaigns. Papa John’s Pizza’s recent partnerships with Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Football League (NFL) grew his celebrity even more.

His outspoken nature made for an easy transition to advertising. However, it has not been as beneficial off the set.

Schnatter first publicly made a political comment back at the peak of the Affordable Care Act debate. He claimed ObamaCare would raise prices by 11 to 14 cents and framed his wealth as an example of political division.

Some critics called for an apology, but he stood by his comments and held a fundraiser in Louisville for 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

After contributing to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016, the CEO again came under fire for comments in his book “Papa: The Story of Papa John’s Pizza,” that claimed “America in 2016 is on the path to becoming what Germany was in 1867.”

He went on to say that Germany “was profoundly not a land of opportunity,” and that “If you believed the wrong thing, the government attacked you. If you became successful, the government took your money. And if you dared go against the whims and will of society’s rulers, the government beheaded you.”

While extremely exaggerated, Schnatter’s free-market paranoia did not differ from common right-wing redirect. Then, this past NFL season, with ratings and pizza sales dropping, he claimed player’s protests during the national anthem were responsible for the drop.

The protests began in 2016 when Colin Kaepernick began sitting during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice in the United States. Kaepernick pledged $1,000,000 to help the cause and began kneeling after speaking with Army veteran Nate Boyer. Soon a laundry list of players joined him.

The anthem protest – just like the Black Lives Matter movement – was never anti-America or anti-White. It is anti-injustice. It is anti-prejudice. It is anti-racism. So why do people like Schnatter get so upset?

Many argue it’s simply about money. But, people could have been tuning out because Kaepernick was unsigned. In fact, viewership in black households dropped as much as it did in white ones. Why wasn’t this ever considered? Because the NFL (and Schnatter) value one group more than the other.

Yet, none of this seemed to bother Major League Baseball.  The Papa Slam deal has been one of the league’s biggest promotions throughout all of this.

Now, that we know Schnatter used the n-word, the league has suspended the promotion. Still, it is the least the league could do. This does NOT impact team agreements and many continued to run their promotions throughout the night.

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Since MLB’s announcement, Schnatter has stepped down as CEO, which sets up the Papa Slam to return soon.

However, this should be a lesson for Major League Baseball. Especially if increasing the league’s African-American population is truly a priority.

Prejudice is normalized. It shapes how we see opinions. Schnatter was an outspoken conservative-republican. But, when he was asked about politics his response, “As far as the politics, I have no idea.”

Schnatter has every right to be conservative, to be a republican, and to share his beliefs. Yet, for some reason, he didn’t see himself that way. Why? For the same reason, he had no problem using the n-word: because we consider it apolitical to be the norm.

Norms are dangerous. They allow us to forget why we think the way we do. If Major League Baseball wants to be on the right side of history it will have to challenge the norm. And that will take more than suspending the Papa Slam.

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