By Sen. John Thune
It was September 1988 – nearly 30 years ago today – when the torch was lit over Seoul, South Korea, for the Summer Olympic Games, which took place just a short distance away from where the Winter Olympic Games are being held this year in Pyeongchang. Athletes from around the world, including the United States, assembled to compete on the greatest stage on the globe, as they are now, and their countrymen were watching.
As the games were getting underway, President Reagan addressed the nation and described the strength of Team USA, which, as he explained, came “from all over our nation, from the rough and tumble streets of our brawny cities to the quiet lanes of our vast countryside … They represent every aspect of our country’s life and a shining hope, too, a crystalline beacon of opportunity that we know is the heart of America.”
Reagan’s words transcend time, as I’ve found they often do. His description of the 1988 team could easily be affixed to the dedicated, hardworking athletes who are in Pyeongchang this year for what will be the pinnacle of many of their careers – as it should be, for all of the time, money, and effort that has gone into their journey to the games.
As many Olympic and Paralympic athletes will tell you, unlike their professional counterparts, they’re not paid to compete. They have day jobs. They’re teachers, nurses, moms and dads, sisters and brothers. They’re paying their own way for gym memberships, personal trainers, equipment, and travel. Long story short, being on Team USA is a big personal investment, and it can come at a significant cost, too.
When these mentors to the next generation of Olympians return home from the games, their success should be celebrated with friends, family, and communities. They deserve it. Unfortunately, up until just a few years ago, in addition to the parades and other celebrations, these athletes were also welcomed home with a victory tax, as it became known, courtesy of the IRS.
I can’t think of anything more unpatriotic than the federal government profiting off of the success of Olympians and Paralympians by taxing the value of their medals and prize money. That’s why I helped lead a successful effort to repeal the victory tax once and for all. As a result, victorious Olympians and Paralympians with an adjusted gross income of $1 million or less – the bulk of the amateur athletes who are the heart of Team USA – will not be taxed on their Olympic success. Guys like the University of South Dakota’s Derek Miles, to whom I was lucky enough to present an overdue Olympic bronze medal last year.
While I believe this is an important issue, nothing accomplished in athletics is as important as how a person responds when an abused child asks for help, which is why the Senate Commerce Committee, which I chair, has been working closely with the Senate Judiciary Committee to address sexual abuse in the Olympic movement.
We’ve made important progress, most recently with the passage of the bipartisan Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act, which combined legislation I authored with a provision spearheaded by the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. These reforms are happening because brave athletes had the courage to stand up and call out wrongdoing to stop abuse, which I hope serves as inspiration to some and a serious warning to others.
President Reagan ended his 1988 address with a message as applicable then as it is now: “So, as you watch these Olympics, remember – win, lose, or draw – how much we have to be proud and thankful for. After all, we’re Americans.” Good luck, Team USA. You’ve got 300 million fans in your corner.