The awful, elitist Olympic athletes

Published on Tuesday, 18 February 2014 20:08 - Written by

It takes an odd mix of logical contradictions and outright inconsistencies for President Barack Obama to support a bill giving Olympic athletes a tax break on the monetary prizes that go along with their medals.

“President Barack Obama thinks American Olympians returning home from Sochi with a medal shouldn’t have to pay income taxes on their gold, silver or bronze haul, the White House said Thursday,” Yahoo News reported. “Roll Call reported that Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., has introduced legislation that would give Olympians who reach the podium a break by excluding their medals when they calculate their individual taxable income. The measure has bipartisan support — Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and New York’s Democratic senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, back the proposal.”

But by every indication of his philosophy and past voting record, Obama shouldn’t.

Olympic athletes are the very epitome of privilege and meritocracy.

Who better personifies “You didn’t build that!” than athletes who were born with the right genes, the right parents and the right environment?

National Geographic points out the genetic requirements.

“The best athletes in the world are a result of good genes and optimal training,” adds Phillip B. Sparling, professor of applied physiology at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “A person who has great dedication, motivation, and excellent training will not rise to the world-class level unless he or she has inherited a supercharged physiological system for the sport.”

And it’s a hefty financial commitment.

“Experts say raising an Olympian — or seeking Olympic glory on one’s own — is an extremely pricey proposition, especially when measured over the period of years it takes to get to and then compete at the games,” notes the Huffington Post. “At best, say athletes and others connected to the Olympics, it’s easily a six-figure ‘investment’ — with no guarantee of a ‘return’ (meaning a medal or an endorsement deal) — when factoring in the costs of equipment, coaching and travel.”

That means that with minimal governmental support (and none at the beginning levels), the burden usually falls to the parents — if they can afford it.

Finally, it’s a complete meritocracy. Olympic athletes aren’t the One Percent, they’re the Fraction of One Percent. Only a tiny, tiny minority of athletes who take up a sport as a child end up as Olympians.

That should go against the grain of Obama’s populism, as outlined in his 2012 State of the Union address (his famous “99 percent” speech).

“We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules,” he said.

He was talking about the inequality of income, of course, not of Olympic medals. But are the two so very different?

The reality is that most of the time, life rewards hard work and excellence — and these athletes earned their medals and distinction. Is that such a bad thing?