Denny Janson: Earning a medal is taxing enough, IRS should cut Olympic athletes a break on winnings

Becoming an Olympic caliber athlete is, by most accounts, taxing beyond comprehension. It is conversely incomprehensible that the IRS lays claim to not the effort but the outcome if it results in an Olympic medal.

For representing the United States on sports biggest stage, the U.S. Olympic Commission awards cash prizes to medal winners. Gold earns you $25,000, silver $15,000 and $10 grand for bronze. However that payout is viewed not as a token of a grateful nation’s appreciation but as income by the IRS and hence subject to taxation.

And according to numbers provided by the group Americans for Tax Reform, we’re not talking chump change. They cite the case of alpine skier Bode Miller, the 36-year-old alpine ski racer who will compete Friday in Sochi.
He is a five-time gold medalist and has a stash of endorsement swag that puts him in the top 39.6 percent tax bracket. So if he wins gold in one of his four remaining events, he’ll have to fork over $9,900. The minimum a more meagerly compensated athlete who finishes first will be out is $2,500. Maybe they can hawk one of those gaudy team uniforms on eBay to make up the shortfall. All this of course is before the inevitable matter of state income taxes.

Americans for Tax Reform notes that the U.S. is one of only a handful of developed countries that penalizes its athletic overachievers for their success.

So Texas Republican Congressman Blake Farenthold is leading an effort to amend the statutes. His Tax Exemptions for American Medalists (TEAM Act) would remove the burden of paying a financial burden from those who’ve already paid a high price to climb the medal podium.

Farenthold suggests that “this needless tax illustrates how complicated and burdensome our tax code has become. We need a fairer system for all and eliminating this unnecessary tax burden on our athletes is a good way to start.”

And maybe the athletes have some leverage after all.

When our Olympic champions return to their hometowns after their Sochi exploits, who might be among the first in line to cozy up for a seat on their bandwagon? I would put my money on politicians eager to bask in the reflected glory. And moreover to recruit them for fundraisers, awareness raisers, hipness enhancers.

Can anyone say shun?

Here’s hoping it never comes to that but after they broke their backs on behalf of their country, their country owes them a tax break.

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