Posted by Bob Lord
It's irritating enough when we hear a plutocrat whine about his tax burden, but when a guy who has become fantastically wealthy playing golf does so, he ought to be facing jail time.
I love the game of golf. I've been playing since I was 11, and introduced my sons to the game when they were 6. But I don't care all that much for golfers (except the ones I drink with after I play. I have a soft spot in my cold liberal heart for them). Golfers utterly fail to appreciate how fortunate they are to be playing golf on a regular basis. I especially don't care for pro golfers — not the ones who work in golf shops, but the ones you see on TV. They're insanely fortunate to accumulate unbelievable wealth doing something inherently frivolous, yet most come to see themselves as really important figures.
And they're rabidly conservative as a group. I read a golf digest article in 2004, where a poll of professional male golfers came out 64-0 in favor of Bush over Kerry. When a group's views are that uniform, something is wrong.
Enter Phil Mickelson.
He's one of the most successful golfers of all time. Including endorsements, he's made hundreds of millions playing golf. He's never spent a day in a regular job. He hasn't had it easy in every respect, with more than his fair share of family health issues. But financially, he's been insanely lucky.
And here he is, in the NY Times Sports Section, whining about his increased tax burden.
“I’m not going to jump the gun and do it right away,” he said after carding a six-under-par 66 to finish in a 10-way tie for 37th, “but there are going to be some drastic changes for me because I happen to be in that zone that has been targeted both federally and by the state. And, you know, it doesn’t work for me right now. So I’m going to have to make some changes.”
Last year, he was ranked by Forbes magazine as the seventh highest-paid athlete, with $47.8 million in earnings, including $43 million in endorsements.
“If you add up all the federal and you look at the disability and the unemployment and the Social Security and state, my tax rate is 62, 63 percent,” Mickelson said. “So I’ve got to make some decisions on what to do.”
To start out with, he's clueless about his marginal tax rate. If you factor in the rate at which his federal tax burden is reduced by his state tax payments, his total marginal rate, including the new medicare tax, is between 52 and 53 percent. And, in all likelihood, he's avoiding the medicare tax on a good bit of his income outside his tour winnings. And he likely has capital gains income not reflected in the $47.8 million, which would be taxed at a much lower rate.
At a minimum, if he does as well this year as he did in 2012, poor Phil will net more than $23 million after tax. I'd love to be the reporter at his next tour stop. "So, Phil, which social safetly net programs do you propose be slashed so you can have more than $23 million per year to spend?" "Phil, which poor people should pay more in tax so you can pay less in tax and spend more on jet fuel?" "Phil, how long did it take you to become the consummate elitist prick?" "Phil, do you think perhaps you should stick to golf?"
I would be less offended hearing these remarks from a professional basketball or football player. They have short careers. The money they make in a decade or so has to last them their entire lives. But golfers don't have that disadvantage and Phil Mickelson certainly doesn't. He's in his 21st year as a pro, still at the top of his game. And, when he retires from the PGA tour, he'll be able to play the Senior's tour, where he will be able to pocket more than a quarter mil for three days of toiling on the golf course. And even when that door closes, he'll still have endorsement deals, speaking opportunities, and course design work.
Why is it exactly that we lionize these assholes? Isn't there a lesson to be learned from the Lance Armstrong and Joe Paterno fiascos? This is not meant as a categorical put-down of professinal sports. Sports have a place in our society. But that place has become too large, in my opinion. The relative amounts by which we celebrate those who do great things with their bodies compared to those who do great things with their minds is horribly out of balance. How do I know that? Because we've arrived at the point where the New York Times pays attention when Phil Mikelson whines about his heavy tax burden.