The name of “Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium” will be changed to “Cardinal Stadium.”
The announcement was made Friday by U of L President Neeli Bendapudi. It comes two days after Forbes magazine reported John Schnatter, the founder of pizza company Papa John’s, used the N-word in a conference call with a public relations firm.
Schnatter said the report was accurate, and apologized for his remarks. But by Thursday, Schnatter had resigned from both the University of Louisville Board of Trustees and as chairman of the board of Papa John’s.
In an interview with WHAS 840 AM that aired Friday afternoon, Schnatter blamed the public relations firm for pushing him to make the derogatory comment.
“Believe it or not, the agency was promoting that vocabulary,” he said. Schnatter said his comment was taken out of context, and that he said the N-word while explaining that others may use that word but he and Papa John’s do not.
Also in the interview, which was recorded before the announcement about the stadium renaming, Schnatter said he would like the opportunity to apologize to the university’s football players.
During her announcement Friday, President Benapudi said U of L’s brightest days are still ahead.
“By taking this action, we renew our community’s commitment to speaking up when it matters, doing what is right, and coming together as one team, one Cardinal family, to heal and move forward,” she said.
Bendapudi said the university would not be looking for another sponsor at this time.
Bendapudi also announced that Schnatter’s name would be removed from the university’s Schnatter Center for Free Enterprise. That center was funded through a $4.64 million gift from Schnatter’s family foundation in 2015, along with additional money from the Charles Koch Foundation.
Schnatter stepped down as CEO of Papa John’s earlier this year after drawing fire for criticizing the National Football League’s handling of protests by some players during the National Anthem. Benapudi stressed the importance of separating Schnatter from his company, which has thousands of employees.
“It is a feeling at this moment in time that there is too much hurt around it and the company understands it’s a difficult decision,” Bendapudi said. “Again, I am very much in favor of separating out the company from the individual and I hope you’ll all carry this message.”
Hours before Bendapudi’s announcement, Kentucky’s senior senator came out in favor of changing the stadium’s name. U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell — an avid U of L football fan — said if it were up to him, he’d change the name of the stadium, but said the decision is up to school leadership.
“I don’t like it. If it were up to me, I’d change it tomorrow,” McConnell said during a press conference on Friday.
“I have a lot of confidence in the new [U of L] president, I don’t know what kind of contractual arrangements there were. But I’m sure she’s going to handle it very well.”
Robert Churchill, who works at the university as a custodian, said he was happy with the change.
“I kind of feel like it should have been Cardinal Stadium, from the get-go,” Churchill said. “He could have his name in there like PNC’s got their name out there but it’s not PNC Stadium.”
Graduate student Nicholas Jackson said he had been hoping the university would make this change.
“I think that kind of language is unacceptable and I think this is a pattern for him, it seems, maybe not that actual word but comments like this,” Jackson said. “I think it’s good that the university is separating itself from him.”
Schnatter controls the naming rights to the stadium through an agreement made with U of L more than 20 years ago, according to the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.
The totality of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium’s name is contained in two agreements: the first, naming rights assigned to John Schnatter for his tax-deductible donations. The second was a sponsorship agreement with Papa John’s International.
The agreements gave Papa John’s perks and vendor guarantees while allowing Schnatter the opportunity to change the name if he chose, though he would have had to bear the cost of the change and new signage.
Ryland Barton, Amina Elahi, Rick Howlett and Kate Howard contributed to this story, which has been updated.