Tax the Olympians!

The debate over whether the U.S. should tax medalists is absurd: Why is their income more privileged?

Topics: Olympics, Taxes, Marco Rubio, London Olympics, 2012 Olympics,

Tax the Olympians!Gabby Douglas (Credit: AP/Julie Jacobson)

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio says the American tax code is “a complicated and burdensome mess.” He and his fellow lawmakers who have repeatedly expressed such a sentiment are absolutely correct — the code is indeed chock-full of special-interest write-offs, credits and subsidies that exacerbate the federal deficit. And they are right to criticize the unfairness of such a system, because while these loopholes are typically written to reward tiny groups of wealthy, politically connected and/or high-profile Americans, the rest of us lowly proles are subject to the regular rules, and get no such special treatment.

So it is both galling and perplexing to see the same politicians, led by Rubio, this week propose a special tax exemption for the income U.S. athletes earn on their medals at the Olympic games.

This kind of exemption, which yesterday was endorsed by President Obama, is offensive for a number of obvious reasons.

First and foremost, there’s the sheer hypocrisy. A special carve-out exemption for the income a medalist earns is precisely the kind of loophole that has made the tax code “a complicated and burdensome mess.” You can’t purport to be concerned about that mess, while also making the mess even worse.

Additionally, the exemption is largely unnecessary; according to tax experts, existing write-offs mean most Olympians won’t pay any levy at all on the money they make at the games.

But maybe worst of all, if enacted, the exemption would send a troubling message about what kind of income the U.S. government says should be a priority. Effectively, the loophole would say that income earned at high-profile, privately funded, privately administered sports competitions is so important and such a high priority, it should receive a total tax exemption that so many other forms of income do not receive. Put another way, it would have the tax code say unequivocally that athletic income is more important than other forms of income — say, income earned defending and protecting our communities.



That’s an ugly message, for sure — but, sadly, it shouldn’t be that surprising. After all, America is a nation that regularly pleads poverty to justify cuts to police/firefighter salaries and denials of benefits to first responders — all while spending billions a year on sports. Logically — if hideously — it thus stands to reason that this same nation would be supportive of providing a total tax exemption to income earned from playing recreational games — one that is, for instance, not afforded to income earned by police officers, firefighters and first responders as they physically defend our communities.

For their part, Rubio and his bipartisan coalition claim that subjecting Olympic athletes to the regular income tax rules the rest of us are subject to is somehow a form of targeted persecution. They argue that “Olympians who dedicate their lives to athletic excellence should not be punished when they achieve it.”

To justify the use of the word “punish,” they cite a study from Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform that, according to the Los Angeles Times, finds “a gold medal winner will pay the IRS up to $8,986 … Silver medal winners face a tax of up to $5,385, and bronze medal winners face a tax of up to $3,502.”

Framed in such demagogic terms, you might think Olympians get home with just their medal and a big tax bill — as if a supposedly unappreciative nation’s reward to homecoming victors is a draconian demand to come up with a massive tithe out of thin air. Yes, that would be an unacceptable punishment — if it actually worked that way.

But that’s the thing — it doesn’t work that way at all. As ATR notes, Olympians are simply required to count the value of their physical medal as a taxable asset (a gold medal is worth $675, a silver $385 and a bronze under $5) on their tax forms just as any American who receives an asset has to do.

Additionally — and more substantially for tax purposes — they receive a cash prize of $25,000 for a gold medal, $15,000 for a silver and $10,000 for a bronze. All of this means that any levies — if they are somehow still owed after existing write-offs — don’t come out of athletes’ pre-Olympic bank account. They come out of an asset and cash income windfall athletes receive upon winning their medals — a windfall that is taxed like similar forms of income any American earns.

Does this still qualify as “punishment”? One way to answer that question is to ask whether you think subjecting, say, game-show winners’ income and prizes, lottery winners’ income or poker competition champions’ income to regular income tax rules is also “punishment.” Most people likely (and rightly) believe that’s not a “punishment” at all, so why would it somehow be punishment for the winner of a swimming race?

An even better way to ponder the “punishment” question is to pose two other queries: 1) How can the concept of being subject to the same tax rules as everyone else be portrayed as special “punishment” and 2) why is the concept of paying any taxes at all now equated with “punishment” rather than patriotism?

This latter question is particularly vexing in the context of the Olympics. During the games, America celebrates itself and its athletic dominance via a paroxysm of self-congratulatory hyper-nationalism among lawmakers, pundits and fans. Left unmentioned in the “USA!”-screaming hoopla is the fact that much of what has made America such a great nation is our past willingness to invest in public institutions. Those include everything from the military to public schools to community rec centers — the latter duo being just two examples of many investments that often play a key role in nurturing our future Olympians.

Taxes, of course, are necessary to finance those investments, and therefore paying those taxes is one of the clearest ways for all of us — including athletes — to fulfill one’s basic duty to country. By contrast, pretending taxes are a punishment and insisting athletes should get a special exemption is the opposite of fulfilling that duty, no matter how much craven politicians wrap such rhetoric in the flag.

David Sirota

David Sirota is a senior writer for the International Business Times and the best-selling author of the books "Hostile Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future." E-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>