Olympian tax breaks: You’ve heard the rest, here’s the best

If we want to maintain American exceptionalism, let’s give exceptional Americans a break next April 15. We heard it on radio and television and saw it blasted in print and on the Internet: Olympic winners earn gold and silver — for the IRS.

This story first broke Wednesday morning, when Americans for Tax Reform announced that a gold medalist could be assessed close to $9,000 for the value of the medal and the cash winnings that accompany it.

I learned three things from this:

One, that medalists receive a cash prize in addition to the medal.

Two, that the athletes are actually taxed on their medals and winnings.

Three, that the gold and silver medals aren’t solid gold or silver — they’re plated. Pikers.

Later that day, the Tampa Bay Tribune’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact jumped in to say, “Not so fast.” It pointed out that although the athletes could indeed be taxed close to $9,000, it wouldn’t be likely, because that figure fails to take into account deductible business expenses.

In my opinion, taxing Olympic athletes is wrong, whether their bill is $9,000 or $9. They spend thousands of hours perfecting their athleticism while foregoing fun with friends (including occasionally getting into mischief). Their parents can spend upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars for training, lodging, equipment and transportation. This is all for the mere chance of getting a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Once there, they face the very best that all the other nations have to offer.

And what do these young men and women give us? Every four years, they fill our hearts with joy, brim our eyes with tears and charge our beings with a sense of national pride. And we show our appreciation by handing them a tax bill?

Two Republican U.S. lawmakers agree with me. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rep. Blake Farenhold of Texas introduced bills in their respective chambers to exempt Olympic athletes from tax liability on their winnings. But they don’t go far enough.

Recognizing that not all of us are athletic but that we each have our talents, I propose extending this to other international venues. I would, however, offer this tongue-in-cheek proviso: They would actually have to have done something to deserve the award. That said, Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam Riesswho, who discovered that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, should not have been taxed on their 2011 winnings for the Nobel Prize in Physics. On the other hand, Barack Obama, who received a Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, should have been taxed to the max.

Similarly, Richard Heck, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis, should have been able to return home from the ceremonies free of fear of the taxman. Al Gore and Jimmy Carter should not have been so lucky.

See, isn’t this fun? Of course, it would never happen. The president’s notion of fairness, after all, is completely foreign to my own. But daydreams can be a real tension reliever — and they’re a lot cheaper than a psychiatrist.

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