No matter where you work in sports, you’re going to hear about the ongoing disputes about NFL players protesting during the national anthem. This is hard to ignore because the issue is so divisive.

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As a CNN poll found, 49 percent of the 1,037 respondents think professional sports leagues should require their players to stand during the anthem, and 47 percent disagree. To put it simply, a lot of people have a strong opinion on this topic.

Let’s say you’re selling tickets for an NFL team. Chances are, you’re going to hear an earful from fans. They might be trying to return their season tickets, lecturing you on why the protests are disrespectful, and some might be asking about your opinion.

If you work in sports sales, marketing, or any field with a lot of customer interaction, you need to know how to address this issue when it arises. Your interaction with them can not only help retain customers, but you can also continue to hit your company’s goals.

Here’s how you to address ongoing controversies in a professional, productive manner when you work in sports:

Stay Consistent

First, make sure your responses align with your employer. One of the worst things you can do in a customer-facing position is misrepresent your organization’s stance on divisive topics.  

Check with leadership before fielding questions and addressing comments. This way, your team defines a consistent messaging strategy and stays true to it.

As controversies build, keep communications open with colleagues and leadership. For example, President Trump recently misrepresented what the NFL said to their players. He made it seem like Commissioner Goodell demanded players to stand. As the league pointed out, this is not what the statement said.  

Make sure your team stays up to date on ongoing controversies so you’re not thrown off when customers bring up the latest developments.

Address It

The worst thing you can do is pretend like a controversy is not happening. Don’t dodge the issue. Instead, be proactive and address the controversy openly.

Highlight your employer’s stance to your audience. If you’re a marketer, for example, get leadership to approve an official statement. At the very least, you and your team have a document you can refer customers to if they want clarification of the company’s stance.

Official statements are important during controversy. Without them, people may look negatively on your brand and even assume the worst.

For example, following President Trump’s tweets in late September, every NFL team released official statements to address the attack. This at least gave their fans an idea of where the organization stands on the issue.

Focus on the Value

This is easier said than done, but don’t let national controversies become a distraction for customers. No matter what you’re selling or marketing, whether it’s tickets or apparel, always keep your message on the value you offer them.

When you face complaints, try to veer the conversation back to the product or service tactfully. Help them see what they’re paying for and how the value benefits them.

Consider asking your employer for more training if you need it. You would benefit from learning how to better negotiate and develop trust and rapport with customers. If your company doesn’t offer additional training, enroll in online courses on sales techniques. For example, Udemy offers several options for learning the best tactics.  

Check In With Yourself

While it’s important to be professional when you work in sports, if your personal beliefs don’t align with what your employer values, then maybe it’s time to research employers who do match you.

Address this with leadership. Share your opinions and explain your personal beliefs on the controversy.

For example, if you believe the NFL players protesting is a peaceful demonstration that is effectively raising awareness about racial injustices in the country and your employer believes they shouldn’t be protesting, attempt to have a positive discussion looking at the differing views. Those opting to not stand are doing-so in an attempt to exercise American values of freedom and independence in the U.S.

Further, it is important to have healthy conversation looking at the wide-spread misunderstanding of the protest entirely within your organization. These major controversies can cause a lot of heated debate. It’s important to focus on the messaging, be authentic, and create a comfortable, safe environment for both you and your customers to engage in a respectful dialogue. This way, you’re still delivering a premier customer experience.

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