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Carolina Panthers maintain Papa John’s ties despite backlash against former CEO

Papa John’s pulled founder John Schnatter’s image from marketing materials following his use of racial slur this spring. A number of teams including the Seattle Seahawks have severed ties with Papa John’s recently. The Carolina Panthers maintain their Papa John’s relationship, however.
Papa John’s pulled founder John Schnatter’s image from marketing materials following his use of racial slur this spring. A number of teams including the Seattle Seahawks have severed ties with Papa John’s recently. The Carolina Panthers maintain their Papa John’s relationship, however. AP

After Papa John’s founder John Schnatter used a racial slur in a recent conference call, a number of sports teams have distanced themselves from the pizza chain, a longtime NFL sponsor.

The Carolina Panthers, however, are not one of those teams.

“We still have a relationship” with Papa John’s, team spokesman Steven Drummond told the Observer this week, declining to comment further.

Last fall, Schnatter slammed the NFL and its “poor leadership” for how it dealt with players who knelt during the national anthem. He blamed the league for sluggish sales, too.

Papa Johns announced weeks later its plan to replace Schnatter as CEO. This month, Schnatter, a white man, stepped down as chairman of Papa John’s after he acknowledged to Forbes that he used the N-word during a media-training call in May.

A number of teams have distanced themselves from the brand recently in opposition to Schnatter’s remarks. Some include the University of Louisville, the New York Yankees, Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays.

Most recently, the Seattle Seahawks last week said it ended its deal with Papa John’s, and that it had signed with Pizza Hut instead, 247Sports reported.

The initial fallout from the Papa John’s controversies dates back to February, when the NFL cut ties with the brand and announced the it had signed Pizza Hut its new corporate sponsor. The league, however, said that individual teams could maintain their own relationships with Papa John’s.

A few high-profile Panthers players took to social media to support the league’s announcement. Quarterback Cam Newton, for instance, welcomed Pizza Hut to the NFL in a tweet to his 1.1 million followers. Running back Christian McCaffrey tweeted a similarly worded welcome message to his 206,000 followers.

The Papa John’s-Panthers relationship dates back to 2014, although it’s unclear how much the deal is worth. Periodically, Papa John’s would offered giveaways to fans following a Panthers win.

It’s not uncommon for businesses and sports teams to sever ties with a brand or organization over opposition to a certain position taken or remark made. NBA star Steph Curry’s sponsor Under Armour, along with several other companies, left Donald Trump’s manufacturing council last summer after he appeared to equate the actions of white supremacist groups and those protesting them in Charlottesville, Va.

But the Panthers are not the only team to remain loyal to Papa John’s despite the controversy.

Before the Dallas Cowboys began training camp this week, team owner Jerry Jones told reporters that the team will maintain its relationship with Papa John’s. Not only does the team embrace the brand, Jones said, it owns Papa John’s locations throughout Texas, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Allegations of a slur

Like Papa John’s itself, the Panthers organization has come under fire in recent months, including over a racial slur.

Former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson sold the team this spring after an independent investigation substantiated claims several current and former employees made that Richardson acted inappropriately in the workplace — including that he used a racial slur.

The NFL fined Richardson $2.75 million, a league record, the majority of which the league says will go to organizations that address race and gender-based issues.

The team’s new owner, David Tepper, who bought the Panthers for an NFL-record price of $2.275 billion, has vowed to fix the problematic office culture he inherited from Richardson.

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Tepper is said to have met with a number of Panthers players to discuss the league’s national anthem policy, although the new owner has not publicly commented on where he stands on the matter.

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