MY FAMILY AND I have been mesmerized by the Summer Olympics.
And to be honest, a few times, as we watched Michael Phelps win another gold medal or Simone Biles defy gravity, we thought, "This athlete is going to get paid!"
Although it's true that some of the superb competitors see big paydays from their triumphs at the Olympics, many don't end up cashing in.
But here's something else. When those who win get bonuses for their medals, the income is subject to U.S. income tax. The U.S. Olympic Committee gives winners $25,000 for a gold medal, $15,000 for a silver, and $10,000 for a bronze.
A bipartisan bill that passed the Senate this summer would exempt the income for Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Americans for Tax Reform has drafted a petition to urge the House to follow.
"Most countries subsidize their athletes; the very least we can do is make sure our athletes don't get hit with a tax bill for winning," said New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a cosponsor of the bill. "After a successful and hard-fought victory, it's just not right for the U.S. to welcome these athletes home with a tax on that victory."
As part of my email newsletter, I ask the Color of Money Question of the Week. My most recent query: Should U.S. Olympic winners have to pay taxes on the bonuses they get for winning a medal?
Here's what some of you had to say:
On Twitter, @Eddieca11486276 wrote: "No!!!! They [Olympic athletes] were given to the world to represent the achievements of their country. Let them enjoy the fruit of their labor."
Many people echoed the following comment from another reader: "The prize money should not be taxed, although for some of the high-profile athletes, it is a drop in the bucket compared to the endorsement money and other financial windfalls that come with their success. Many, perhaps most, of the less visible winners in sports that don't make prime-time TV don't enjoy that benefit even though they also put in years of sacrifice to reach their success at the Olympics. The federal or state governments that have income taxes are never going to miss the few thousand dollars they might get from taxing the medal winners. We collectively claim success for our great country and society based on their hard work and we ought to reward them; not taxing their prize money seems like a small token of appreciation for their dedication and hard work."
Another wrote: "I can't understand why there isn't more of an uproar about this antiquated policy. Other countries subsidize and even pay their athletes. Our athletes and/or their families go into debt so we can beat our chest in front of the TV."
But many don't agree that Olympians deserve a special tax privilege.
"At my corporate job, I'm taxed on any bonus and reward given to me by my employer, even if the reward is an item instead of money," Ruth B. wrote. "If Congress considers changing the taxable status for medal-winning Olympic athletes, they should change the rule for everyone. Why is one person's bonus different than another's?"
Kimberly Rotter of San Diego chimed in: "It doesn't make sense to me that an Olympian wouldn't have to pay taxes on winnings. Why not? The taxes will still be subject to normal limits, so if you win one gold medal, you will pay very little. If a person wins 12 gold [medals], he's starting with a total income of $300,000, so any complaint is just whining. We all have to step up and meet our financial obligations, including the one to Uncle Sam. That's real life."
Philip Lilienthal, president of Global Camps Africa in Virginia, made a good point: "Of course they should pay a tax. I do wonderful work in Africa, working with children to educate them in avoiding HIV. Any salary I make is and should be taxed. Your relief from tax should not be the value of the work you do: or, maybe it should be, but that never has been the prism through which the IRS looks to see whether you should be taxed. This is no different."
I understand the compassion that people have for folks who devote a great amount of money and time to compete in the Olympics. The competitors make sacrifices for which they deserve kudos. But if we are going to carve out a special tax break for Olympic athletes, then we should add to that list all those people who serve for the good of society, including educators, social workers, and people who work with the poor. Just saying.