Grover Norquist and Marco Rubio Are Here To Save Olympians From The Taxes They Won’t Pay

by evanmcmurry

A scare story started making the rounds of the interwebs yesterday that Olympic medallists could owe up to $9,000 in taxes on their medals and prizes. It was enough that Grover Norquist’s website had a sad poop, and Marco Rubio—using the new standard cover that “the tax code is too complicated,” which is conservative code for “no taxes ever”—immediately proposed a bill to eliminate taxes for Olympians.

It should come as no surprise that a Norquist/Rubio duet got a few things wrong. PoliticFact eviscerated the claim from top to bottom, even going so far as to point out that Rubio’s extra exemption would make the tax code more complicated, not less (PolitiFact‘s taken its lumps, but it’s a thorough fact checking organization that gets both the lie and the bullshit). Almost all Olympians would be able to claim massive deductions on their taxes—everything from training to uniforms to travel expenses to cell charges—that would drastically lower, or more likely eliminate, any taxes they would pay on their medals. Moreover, most Olympians do not make very much money, which means they wouldn’t even approach the 35% tax rate that Norquist used to come up with his figures, including the $9,000 one. Via PolitiFact:

While some world-class athletes come into the Olympics as international superstars with lucrative endorsement deals, many athletes earn less. Though the data is incomplete, we did find one study conducted by the Track & Field Athletes Association that found that about half of track and field athletes who ranked in the top 10 in the U.S. in their event made less than $15,000 annually from the sport in sponsorship, grants and prize money. About 20 percent of such athletes made more than $50,000 annually. And beyond marquee athletes such as sprinters, milers and distance runners it’s toughest of all, the study found.

There’s anecdotal evidence as well. Marathoner Brian Sell, who made the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, told CNNMoney that it took years of struggle, including three years earning less than $25,000, before he made significant money from running. “It’s a small percentage of people who make a real living in this sport,” he told CNNMoney. “And if you didn’t run well, you didn’t get paid.”

An athlete earning the same $25,000 a year that Sell earned for three straight years would pay about 15 percent on gold medal winnings. That would be $3,851 — before accounting for any allowable expenses.

So who would potentially benefit from a tax exemption on a 35% tax rate for a number of gold medals? Someone like Michael Phelps, who earns millions in endorsement deals and thus falls into the highest tax bracket. Which means for all the faux-populist talk of the unfairness to Olympic athletes, Rubio’s bill would actually be—wait for it—a tax break for the rich. What are the odds?