By Tia Pogue ’17, Staff Writer
Last week, Democratic Congressman Jim Himes was the only representative out of 416 who voted against a bill that would grant tax exemptions for the prize money awarded to Olympian medal winners.
It’s true, those athletes have worked hard to earn those medals and that prize money, which ranges from $10,000 for bronze medals to $25,000 for gold medals provided by the U.S. Olympic Committee. As Derek Bouchard-Hall, the chief executive of U.S.A. Cycling, put it, “a tax break is just a way of acknowledging something they did for our country.”
However, athletes are certainly not the only people who work hard for our country. What about the tens of millions of teachers, doctors, and scientists? They receive no such exemptions. At least firefighters’ feats of athleticism lead to a more tangible benefit for the rest of America than a sense of raised morale.
“But these professionals are the best in their field!” one might argue. “They’ve worked years for this achievement! They deserve something extra for winning!” Okay, okay, that’s an understandable viewpoint. However, with that logic, shouldn’t winners of other prestigious awards, like winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, also receive the same benefits?
Admittedly, unlike many other professions, professional athletes do not always have the most reliable source of income, and often rely upon sponsorships and fundraising. In fact, U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun points out that to compete in the Olympics, athletes “make considerable financial sacrifices.” But while this may be true, let’s remember that these athletes have chosen these careers with the knowledge that only a very small number will be successful enough to become rich; so, giving athletes a tax break because their careers aren’t often lucrative doesn’t make much sense. This is especially true when remembering the fact that members of other less lucrative professions are still taxed.
Others have argued that Olympians should earn a bigger cut of the International Olympic Committee’s expected annual revenue of $1.375 billion, which is currently dispersed through a trickle-down system. While this viewpoint may be perfectly valid, it’s also entirely distinct from the question of whether or not that income should be taxable.
Finally, yes, it’s true, the $3 million the Olympic medal tax break would take out of the federal budget over the next ten years is a drop in the Olympic swimming pool-sized bucket. But that $3 million might still be put to better use elsewhere. As Rep. Himes told the New York Times, “We’ve got a Zika crisis, an opium epidemic and gun violence in the news every day.”
Perhaps those are the issues that deserve a spot on Congress’s priority podium.