Why Olympic Athletes Need to Pay Up

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It has been a couple of weeks since the closing of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, so to help fill the void, I’d like to bring up a controversial Olympic topic. 

I came across an article recently in which the issue of the tax on Olympic athletes’ prize money was being discussed and Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio was quoted describing the tax as “ridiculous.” He says, “We can all agree that these Olympians who dedicate their lives to athletic excellence should not be punished when they achieve it.” 

Can we really all agree on that, Mr. Rubio?

Rubio’s comments got me thinking about the value we are placing on athletes in our society and what effect that may be having on our kids. What about the kids growing up right now who will never be elite athletes? (Which, by the way, is most of them). Professional athletes earn more money in one year than most of us will see in a lifetime. Now politicians are pushing acts to ban the taxing of Olympic winnings. We certainly do have these athletes up on a pedestal, don’t we?

Don’t get me wrong, I am a sports fan. I grew up an athlete and believe sports are wonderful for children and adults alike. But our obsession with athletes, the amount of money we spend on them, and the idea now that some elite athletes may be exempt from paying a tax we all have to pay is taking it all too far.

Senator Rubio says that taxing Olympic winnings is like punishing them for their success, but I don’t see how that is any more of a punishment than the income tax all Americans pay on every penny they earn. A salesman cannot win a tax-free bonus for meeting a sales goal; a store manager is required to pay taxes on, say, a trip she wins for exceeding a company sales goal; a firefighter who is sent to one of the raging California wildfires to work day and night for several weeks straight is taxed heavily on the overtime he is most definitely earning. But to Senator Rubio and the others who support Olympic tax elimination, athletes are simply more deserving of a tax-break than everyone else.

I fear the message we are sending to children today is one that overvalues physical ability and forgets about the rest of the population.

How about the “regular Joe’s” who keep our society functioning from day to day What about those firefighters who risk their lives daily to save others? Who’s thinking about the undervalued teachers who are living in constant fear of not having a job from one year to the next? I don’t see why any child would aspire to be part of one of those noble professions when only the athletes get the real perks.

I fear we are becoming so awed by physical prowess and athletic ability that we are forgetting about the equality we claim to, as a country, embody. I’m afraid our kids may not see the hypocrisy in this; rather, they will grow up believing it.

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