By Jeff Girod
The United States Olympic Committee awards prize money to American Olympic medal winners: $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze.
But not so fast, Michael Phelps. Don’t buy that diamond-encrusted Speedo just yet.
Under current tax law, Olympic athletes can be taxed on their winnings—up to $9,000 for a gold medal, according to a taxpayer group called Americans for Tax Reform.
As you can imagine, citizens are in an uproar over the idea of taxing our nation’s greatest Olympians. (Or we will be upset, as soon as NBC finishes tape delaying the Olympics, some time after Thanksgiving. Then Bob Costas will be hunted by a mangy English bulldog.)
Florida Senator Marco Rubio recently introduced legislation to ban the tax, describing it as “madness” and calling the U.S. tax code “a complicated and burdensome mess.” (Or maybe Rubio was just trying to watch “live” swimming coverage on NBC.)
Either way, when you win an Olympic gold medal it means you’re the best gymnast or runner or whatever in the world. I can only imagine what that feels like. I know how entitled I get whenever I find a good parking space.
Never mind paying taxes on winnings, Olympic medalists should never have to pay taxes on anything. Also, they should get to punch an East German. (For old time’s sake.)
Olympians’ entire lives are a tax. Every time they skipped dessert, every time they went to bed early and got up while it was dark outside—that was a tax. Every muscle pull, every skinned knee, every bruise, every wedgie—that was a tax.
Most Olympic athletes can tell you, to the ounce, how much body fat they have. Most couldn’t tell you how the last three Batman movies came out, who Katy Perry is dating or what the heck is going on with the handcuffs in Fifty Shades of Gray.
First, fifth or tenth place, Olympic athletes are worth their weight in gold. For every famous swimmer, gymnast and track star who may enjoy a successful career in broadcasting, there are literally hundreds of archers and shot putters who have a better chance of getting on the side of a milk carton than on the front of a Wheaties box.
Most Olympians will eventually have to “grow up” and get “real” jobs. And what do you do after you win the gold medal in discus? You can only make it so far as the world’s greatest Ultimate Frisbee player.
Winning shouldn’t come with a 1090 form and No. 2 pencil. You shouldn’t have to pay taxes whenever you win a 100-meter dash, a car from Oprah or even a goldfish at the county fair. It’s the entire point of “winning.” It’s getting something for free, no strings attached, and certainly without the future possibility of going to debtor’s prison.
Why should some needle-nosed accountant or money-grubbing politician get to stand on a podium with an Olympian? Get the U.S. Olympic Committee to pay the tax on the winnings. Hell, get NBC or McDonald’s or Coca Cola to pay for it.
Millions are made every Olympics from the seemingly endless commercial endorsements. It’s the reason I have substituted all of my food groups with Egg McMuffins and devoted my life to NBC’s new hit comedy Go On, starring Matthew Perry.
Are taxes necessary? Sure I guess, for roads, schools and whatnot. But I can’t shake the feeling that we’re all getting screwed on taxes. You can’t convince me that most of it—or even half of it—is being used effectively or for something useful or even legal.
President Obama’s latest campaign commercial attacks challenger Mitt Romney for earning $20 million in 2010, but only paying 14 percent in taxes. That’s bad. But don’t kid yourself. Every millionaire, including Obama, has a “tax guy” working hard to make him or her look just as poor on paper.
Nobody willingly pays taxes. I hate paying taxes. Now do I hate paying taxes enough to give up dessert, Batman and Katy Perry, and learn how to pole vault?
That depends . . . can I still watch Mathew Perry’s Go On? (Tuesdays, this Fall!)
Contact Jeff Girod at email@example.com.