March 22 (UPI) -- Former NBA great Shaquille O'Neal joined Papa John's board of directors, the pizza company announced Friday as it continues to move past the controversial removal of founder John Schnatter.
O'Neal, who won four NBA titles with the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers, will become the company's first African-American board member, and enters with a wealth of investment experience in fast food and other companies.
In December of 2017, Schnatter stepped down as chief executive of Papa John's after critics said comments he made on the quarterly conference call with analysts about the NFL's leadership were racist and tone-deaf. At that time, Papa John's was an official sponsor of the league.
In May 2018, he allegedly used a racial epithet and made other comments some found racially insensitive during a conference call with a marketing agency, leading to his resignation as board chair.
The company saw its shares tank after those controversies, down 13.4 percent over the past year. Earlier this month, the company settled two lawsuits Schnatter filed against Papa John's. The two sides worked together to find a new board member, among other agreements.
"I have truly enjoyed the high-quality Papa John's product for years and am excited to be able to help Papa John's raise their game to new heights," O'Neal said in a statement. "This is a triple threat opportunity for me. I am excited to join the board and to help lead from the top, while also investing in nine stores in my home town of Atlanta and being an ambassador for the brand."
O'Neal, who serves as an analyst on TNT's nationally televised Inside the NBA, operates a fast casual fried chicken restaurant in Las Vegas and a fine dining restaurant in Los Angeles, and previously owned 27 franchises of the Five Guys hamburger chain.
"In addition to his business acumen, Shaquille understands how to build lasting connections with consumers and energize employees," current Papa John's president Steve Ritchie said.
"I look forward to working with him as a board member and brand partner to advance the many initiatives we are pursuing across the organization to create even greater success for Papa John's and our stakeholders," he added.