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Shaq becomes the first African-American to join Papa John's board of directors

As the failing pizza company is revamping its image, O'Neal hopes the new move will push the company to diversify leadership.

Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Popular pizza brand Papa John's is turning to Shaquille O'Neal to revamp their image following the racist controversy the forced founder and former CEO John Schnatter out of the company.

On Friday (Mar. 23) the chain restaurant announced that the NBA Hall of Famer is now the investor of nine Atlanta locations, the new face of the company thanks to an endorsement deal and the first ever African-American board member.

Shaq will make $8.25 million over the next three years for appearing in TV commercials as well as promoting the company in other ways, according to The Associated Press.

"Shaquille has an excellent entrepreneurial background, including as a restaurant franchise owner, and is a natural creative marketer," Jeff Smith, chairman of Papa John's board of directors, said in a statement to the AP.

The demise of Papa John's goes back to 2017 when Schnatter criticized the NFL's leadership and blamed Colin Kaepernick's protests for declining pizza sales. The story came to a head in July 2018, when it was revealed that Schnatter used the n-word during a conference call. He stepped down as CEO two months later. Sales have fallen for five consecutive quarters since the controversy.

While Schnatter was removed as the face of the company, he is still the biggest shareholder and remains on the board. Just a few weeks ago, the company and Schnatter reached a settlement that will see him step down after a "mutually acceptable independent director" is named.

"If you want to enjoy great pizza and feel loved by the people that serve the pizza, you can come back home now,'' O'Neal said in an interview with the AP. "The Daddy' is here.''

Shaq condemned Schnatter's racist comments and said he told the company's executives that they need more diversity within their leadership. "We want to create a culture to let everybody know that they're loved, accepted and wanted,'' O'Neal said.

Following the announcement, the company's stock rose more than 6 percent by the close of the market on Friday.

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