in Houston, Texas
Will Olympian medalists have to march on the IRS? Not if Texas Congressman Blake Farenthold has his way.
Thursday, Aug 02, 2012, 03:25PM CST
By Mark Lisheron

It is the talk of the 2012 Summer Olympics, bigger than Sen. Harry Reid’s arson attempt on the American uniforms, bigger than Jordyn Wieber’s excessive crying, bigger, even, than NBC’s deplorable underuse of Ryan Seacrest.

No, not Michael Phelps’ rightful place in the Olympic firmament. Whether or not American medal winners should be taxed, taxed for the stipend the U.S. Olympic Committee gives them, but also on the very medals themselves.

Our very own, flag swaddled U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-TX and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. don’t plan on standing by and letting that happen, the Washington Post and a duodecillion other sources are reporting.

The bill, Farenthold calls it the Tax Exemptions for American Medalists or TEAM Act, is the kind of selfless, patriotic legislation that could only have been inspired watching Marti Malloy capture the bronze in women’s judo on tape delay.

Well, no, actually this all got started with a rather nicely timed post by the conservative Americans for Tax Reform. In an easy to read chart, the group calculated the value of winning each of the medals and the medals themselves and spit out the government’s share of the loot.

A gold medalist getting a $25,000 honorarium with a $675 medal hanging from her neck would be on the hook to the Internal Revenue Service for $8,986, $236 of it on the medal alone. Marti Malloy would get a break only because her bronze medal,  made with a whole bunch of tin, wouldn’t buy her a replica outside of the stadium.

The press, in its adorably inevitable way “ran with it,” as they say in our business. In less than 24 hours, the story was groaning like an Olympic weightlifter beneath headlines like “Winning a Gold Medal Brings a $9,000 Tax Bill.” American Olympians set down their vaulting poles and javelins for pitchforks and began their march on the IRS.

We exaggerate, but not much more than that headline. Investigative journalists all over the country rushed in, dropping less important investigations to test the validity of the Americans for Tax Reform figuring.

PolitiFact called the claims mostly false, calling in tax experts to show that only a few of the most successful Olympic athletes would generate that much income and be taxed in that high a bracket.

Mediaite concluded the tax blaring headlines were dishonest, suggesting Americans were better off tittering over why Olympic sponsors, vendors and broadcast networks stand to generate hundreds of millions of dollars while American athletes get relatively nothing.

The TEAM Act is almost quaint in its outrage. Since the Olympic Committee gave up on the last, laughably flimsy pretense of amateurism in 1992 the United States has fielded teams of professionals, like its basketball team, whose members put on jewelry every day worth more than the top tax for a gold medal winner.

Other participating countries no longer make a secret of bankrolling their athletes. Radio Free Europe reports Azerbaijan give its athletes the equivalent of $510,000 for a gold medal Kazakhstan, $250,000 and Iran, $85,000 in gold coins.

The regional government of Chelyabinsk Oblast in Russia has promised $1 million to any local athlete winning gold, the story says, perhaps knowing none of its athletes qualified.

In the chart provided with the story, only Germany awarded its medal winners less than the United States.

Come to think of it, maybe the legislation isn’t such a bad idea. The TEAM Act could be tweaked to cover truly amateur American athletes. At least until women’s judo gets its television contract.

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of the '2012 Olympics Gold Medal' by flickr user Fighting Irish 1977, used via a Creative Commons license.

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