Playing in Cleveland is apparently worse than we thought and it has little to do with the fact that the city is already Cleveland. A pair of former NFL players are suing the City of Cleveland because they say the city’s method of taxing visiting athletes – referred to as the “jock tax” – is totally illegal. Jess Saturday and Hunter Hillenmeyer are alleging that Cleveland’s formula for taxing visiting athletes penalizes them more than it does non-athlete visitors who have to pay taxes for income earned while working in Cleveland. In a move that’s absolutely shocking, the city’s lawyers say the law is totes okay and the city’s tax board agreed. Take THAT, Baltimore Ravens.
I mean, math is hard, and all, but the method the city of Cleveland is currently using is really confusing and byzantine and just reading over it makes me want to buy one of those “DON’T TREAD ON ME” flags to hang from the window of my shanty.
Cleveland determines players’ taxable income by taking the number of games their team played in the city that year while they were on the roster and dividing it by the total number of preseason, regular season, and playoff games they were available to play in.
In Hillenmeyer’s case, that means 1/20th of his income was taxed by the city in 2004 and 2006, as he played one game in Cleveland each year and was eligible to play in 20 total games, according to his appeal. In 2005, Hillenmeyer played one game in Cleveland Browns Stadium and was available to play in 21 Bears games, according to the document.
Both players say that such a law assumes the players only “work” on game days, which don’t include “duty days” of practice, training camps, and other team-related activities which the players say should count as work days, meaning they’d be taxed for working one day in Cleveland out of a possible 150ish days (according to Hillenmeyer) and, thus, pay a lower tax to Cleveland. And there are other weird loopholes, like the fact Saturday was taxed for “working” a Colts-Browns game in 2008 in which Saturday wasn’t even in Ohio (he was rehabbing an injury back in Indiana).
Taxing visiting athletes isn’t new, but the lawsuit is an attempt by the NFLPA to make the process in Cleveland more fair; Cincinnati, which also benefits from not being Cleveland, taxes players by the full “duty days” method. Cleveland, meanwhile, claims the NFLPA is just strong-arming them. They also say changing the law would cost the city $1 million, over 70 percent of which comes from NFL players, meaning the city will have to find another way to keep rivers from catching on fire again.
As confusing as this all is, none of this should be confused with the overwhelming feeling of depression and desperation that settles in on an individual when they cross the city limits, commonly referred to as “The Cleveland Soul Tax.”