Truthout - November 14, 2019

Last month, Shaquille O’Neal along with Miles College in Fairfield, Alabama, pledged to place a Papa John’s Pizza franchise on every historically Black college and university (HBCU) campus in the U.S. If this feels like this came out of the blue, here’s a quick recap on the events leading up to now.

In 2017, Papa John’s (now former) CEO John Schnatter blamed the company’s lagging sales on NFL players kneeling in protest of police brutality against Black Americans. He then resigned as CEO of Papa John’s. However, The Daily Stormer, a white nationalist disinformation outlet, responded to this by declaring Papa John’s the official pizza of the “alt-right.” Papa John’s, rightfully concerned that their CEO’s opinions line up with that of literal Nazis, pushed back and condemned the label.

Later in July 2018, Schnatter then used the n-word during a national conference call, complaining that Colonel Harland Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken repeated the slur all the time without any blowback from the public. The comment was leaked and ignited a firestorm. Papa John’s stock fell 12 percent in the days immediately after the incident and another 11 percent by the end of that quarter. Major League Baseball suspended a promotion they were running with Papa John’s at that time. The University of Louisville removed the company’s branding from their football stadium, stripped Schnatter’s name from a center within its business school and forced him to resign from the university’s board of trustees. Schnatter was then forced to resign as the company’s chairman, and his likeness was removed from all of the company’s promotional materials.

Enter Shaquille O’Neal.

Papa John’s teamed up with Shaq in an attempt to repair its image and presumably win Black customers back to its base. Shaq was invited to join the company’s board of directors and became a stakeholder in nine franchises throughout the Atlanta metro area. He also received $8.25 million in cash and stock options as a part of the arrangement.

Shaq and the folks at Papa John’s have yet to release any details about who will ultimately own the franchises being brought to HBCUs across the country, or if every HBCU even wants a Papa John’s on their campus. In the absence of clarity, it is reasonable to expect that Papa John’s proposal will merely advance the interests of its shareholders, rather than heal the damage done by “Papa John” himself. And to be sure, Shaq’s presence is having the desired effect, as his appearance in ads as Papa John’s brand ambassador has reversed both lagging sales and falling stock prices. However, given the depth of the physical and economic trauma Black Americans have been (and continue to be) subjected to, we should be demanding more of Shaq and Papa John’s. Put another way, if we co-sign such a proposal, we undermine the idea that Black Americans can claim economic and political agency at the very places where this idea is fostered and protected. So, what then must we do? ...
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