Papa John's founder John Schnatter resigned as chairman of the company's board, hours after apologising for using the n-word during a conference call. Picture: Reuters/Danny Moloshok/File Photo

Washington - Papa John's founder John Schnatter resigned as chairman of the company's board Wednesday, hours after apologising for using the n-word during a May conference call with a marketing agency.

Schnatter, a Trump donor who stepped down as the pizza corporation's chief executive in January after he said that National Football League player protests were hurting his pizza sales, was the subject of a news report in the business publication Forbes that documented his use of the racial slur. He confirmed the allegation in his apology.

"News reports attributing the use of inappropriate and hurtful language to me during a media training session regarding race are true," Schnatter said in a statement. "Regardless of the context, I apologise. Simply stated, racism has no place in our society."

Forbes reported that Papa John's executives were on a call with the marketing agency Laundry Service when Schnatter made the remark. The group was going through a role-playing exercise meant to better prepare for public-relations challenges.

Schnatter was asked how he would separate himself from racist groups online and responded by "downplaying the significance of his NFL statement," Forbes reported.

"Colonel Sanders called blacks n-----s," Schnatter reportedly said.

The apology by Schnatter, who is still deeply intertwined with the brand, serving as chairman and a de facto mascot, kicked off a cascade of reactions. He resigned from the University of Louisville Board of Trustees after the local branch of the NAACP called on him to be removed.

"The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People a few years ago held a funeral for the n-word," the chapter said in a statement published by reporters online. "Though symbolic that event may have been, it was done hoping to place the word's usage in a place never to be repeated or revived again."

David Grissom, the chairman of the university board, said he had spoken to Schnatter on Wednesday.

"After speaking with John, I'm confident that his comments, while inappropriate, do not reflect his personal beliefs or values," Grissom wrote.

Papa John's stock plunged to a 12-month low after the report was released.

In November, Schnatter drew criticism after a call with investors in which he blamed slow sales at the company, which is an NFL advertiser, on the league's "poor" leadership over the anthem demonstrations.

"This year, the ratings have gone backwards because of the controversy," Schnatter said at the time. "The controversy is polarising the customer, polarising the country."

The Washington Post