A Tale of Two Athletes

One is a white golfer, the other a black linebacker (American football, for you overseas types).

One committed the crime of murder, or accessory to murder, or obstruction of justice, or none of the above—though two people most assuredly died.

The other decried confiscatory taxation.

Guess who’s the hero and who’s the goat?

B-a-a-a!

America’s top-grossing golfer Phil Mickelson drove himself into a bunker on Jan. 20 when he said that federal and California state tax hikes had made him contemplate making “drastic changes” in his life—including, it was widely assumed, moving to a no-income-tax state such as Texas or Florida. But he was only stating publicly what many professional athletes are mulling privately.

No doubt they’ll keep their thoughts private, too, given the uproar that ensued. The golfer known as Lefty outraged lefties by noting that a tax burden of more than 60% seemed excessive. Didn’t he know that athletes—unlike Hollywood celebrities—are supposed to keep their politics to themselves? Mr. Mickelson quickly apologized for teeing off his critics. “Finances and taxes are a personal matter,” he said.

In November, voters in California approved a ballot measure raising the top rate on income over $1 million to 13.3% (the increase applies retroactively to last year). According to SportsIllustrated.com, Mr. [Tiger] Woods grossed $56.4 million in 2012. As a Floridian, he will keep about $7.5 million that he otherwise would have owed to the state of California. His net tax savings over his 16-year career come to about $100 million. Mr. Mickelson last year earned $60.7 million. Paying the 13.3% California rate, he will owe the state $8 million.

“The day California passed the tax increase, I received three calls from concerned athletes,” accountant Steve Piascik, president of Piascik & Associates, told me. His firm is one of the largest representatives of professional athletes in the country.

Mr. Piascik isn’t urging his clients to pack their bags just yet, but he says that some are considering moving to reduce their tax liabilities. And several of his clients, whose names he won’t disclose, have already ordered their lives around the tax code: They play for teams in California but live elsewhere for tax reasons.

Former Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim right fielder Torii Hunter (who recently signed with the Detroit Tigers) lived in Prosper, Texas, during the baseball off-season. The main reason he “moved to Texas is because it doesn’t have state income tax,” the outfielder told the Orange County Register last year.

For those who suggest a racial element in protesting high taxes, note that Tiger Woods and Torii Hunter are black (Woods’ mother is Thai).

Now, no one wants to hear a millionaire bellyache about his bills. Just moor your yacht in low-tax Rhode Island and shut up about it. Mickelson was dumb enough to stay in California and dumb enough to squawk about it. So he had some of this coming. But I heard one sports radio rant that took him to task for not wanting to pay his fair share.

Please. As if anyone within the sound of my voice would work to keep 33 cents on every dollar they earned.

And as if Mickelson’s tireless work for breast cancer fundraising and awareness (which his wife and his mother—in the same year), among other charities, count for nothing.

Meanwhile, the hero:

When Baltimore Raven linebacker Ray Lewis takes the field at next Sunday’s Super Bowl — his last game ever — much will be made of his storied career. Lewis, now 37, had his breakout season four years after being drafted by the Ravens in 1996: Leading tackler in the NFL, he led the Ravens to victory in Super Bowl XXXV and was named the game’s MVP.

Just one year before, Lewis had been arrested and tried in connection with a double homicide in Atlanta. It’s perhaps the most dramatic bookend that a professional athlete — a legend, at that — could have to his career: His first Super Bowl, played in the shadow of two slayings, made Ray Lewis a superstar. He now leaves his second Super Bowl an iconic all-American hero, beloved by small children and major corporations alike.

As much as the NFL loves a redemption narrative, the story of Ray Lewis is one that you probably won’t be hearing anything about next Sunday night. Lewis himself has made it clear that he will never address it again: “Really,” he told a reporter this month. “Really. Why would I talk about that?”

The piece narrates the night of the crime, the conflicting testimony, the acquittal on all charges (as far as I can tell, no one was ever convicted), the private settlements out of court on civil charges. It’s all there, and it’s all known—and has been known for lo these many years.

Ray Lewis will be lionized at the Super Bowl Sunday night. He’s already announced his retirement; win or lose, his Hall of Fame career ends then (though heavy underdogs, his Ravens have his inspiration on their side).

I don’t know of what he was guilty, and I respect his discovery (rediscovery?) of faith. There are indeed second acts in American lives. But the first act cannot be forgotten. There is no moral to the story unless the entire story is told. You can be sure it won’t be during this Super Bowl week.

2 Comments »

  1. Bloodthirsty Liberal said,

    January 28, 2013 @ 9:17 am

    I don’t follow sports much, but this is really the whole story of our culture. Rift by jealousy, class and racial animosity, and just plain stupidity. I hope we grow up soon.

    - Aggie

  2. Buck O'Fama said,

    January 28, 2013 @ 5:29 pm

    The joke is that Mickelson spoke about doing what rich politicians, celebrities and other wealthy “raise my taxes” types do, but don’t talk about. Ain’t that right, Bono?

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