Schnatter 1 million dollar gift announcement

Papa John's founder John Schnatter announces a $1 million gift to Simmons College of Kentucky on Sept. 4, 2019.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Papa John’s International founder John Schnatter will give $1 million through his family foundation to Simmons College of Kentucky, a historically black institution in Louisville.

The gift comes a little over a year after the pizza mogul’s life was turned upside down following his admission that he used an African American slur during a media training exercise – a remark he later said was taken out of context.

Yet neither Schnatter nor Rev. Kevin Cosby, president of Simmons College, directly addressed that incident during a news conference to announce the gift on Wednesday, and both men evaded the media following the event, with Cosby entertaining a few questions through his car window after reporters tracked him down.

During the news conference, Cosby suggested that time has helped heal any injury over Schnatter’s use of the N-word, and Schnatter’s gift outweighs his remark.

“What we say and mean is often misrepresented, but the pain of words, the sting, fades,” Cosby said. “Actions speak louder because lack of action through generations has caused pain throughout the generations. The black community has heard far too many false words, but today this action – this generosity specifically for black education and uplift – speaks louder.”

Schnatter, for his part, didn’t address the incident, instead appealing to the importance of historically black colleges and universities.

“My life’s work is to help make other people’s lives better and one way for us to do for each other is to support black-led institutions,” Schnatter, 57, said during the press conference.

The gift from the John H. Schnatter Family Foundation will apparently be shared with the National Baptist Convention of America, International, a fellowship of African American Baptist churches that has close ties to Simmons. Details were not disclosed on Wednesday.

Dr. Mark Lynn, chairman of the Simmons board of trustees, said he didn’t know how the money would be split. Simmons will use its portion to make repairs to buildings and parking lots and to help hire a chief financial officer, among other uses, Lynn said.

Lynn said it's one of the biggest gifts in the school's history and one that's on par with the $1 million that Humana Inc. co-founder David Jones and his wife Betty gave in 2005.

Papa John's has stripped Schnatter’s image from ads, pizza boxes and marketing materials while stressing it has no longer has any formal connection to Schnatter.

Schnatter, who had not made public appearances in about a year until Wednesday, showed up to Simmons looking the part he played on TV for years as the pizza company's spokesman. He donned a red shirt with a cursive "Papa" emblazoned on it.

“It’s been a blessing to be part of the Papa John’s story along with our great employees at Papa John's,” Schnatter said Wednesday. “And it’s been a real gift from God to be a leader in this community.”

Schnatter remains the company's largest shareholder, although he has reduced his stake this year from 31% to less than 17% in a series of stock sales totaling $209 million.

Schnatter told WDRB on Tuesday that the gift is about supporting college students and not about repairing his image. “This is just about the kids and the school. If you’re right about the kids and school, the image will take care of itself.”

Simmons' embrace of Schnatter stands in contrast to universities that quickly disassociated themselves with Schnatter last year, including the University of Louisville, the University of Kentucky, Ball State University and Purdue University.

U of L trustee Raymond Burse, the former president of historically black Kentucky State University, came to Wednesday's event to show his support for Schnatter's gift to Simmons.

"Simmons is a religious institution and people serve their time in purgatory," Burse said. "(Schnatter) is repentant of what he said, and what we want to look (to) is, now let’s see his good work be expressed through what he earned and gained through Papa John’s … There may come a day where every institution across this country who put up a stop sign to him may change their mind."

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2019 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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Chris Otts reports for WDRB.com about business and economic topics, higher education and local / state government. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after seven years with The Courier-Journal. Got a tip? Chris is at 502-585-0822 and cotts@wdrb.com.