Former Indianapolis Colt Jeff Saturday has filed suit against the city of Cleveland, fighting a so-called “jock tax” that he contends unfairly dinged him during his playing days.
The suit challenges Cleveland’s method of taxing pro athletes who play in the city for visiting teams. Many cities, states and other taxing jurisdictions take a cut of visiting players’ income, but Saturday claims that Cleveland’s method is unusual and unfair.
Saturday’s suit is pending before the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals. Former Chicago Bears player Hunter Hillenmeyer has filed a similar suit, which also is pending.
Saturday's case against Cleveland regarding a Colts game against the Cleveland Browns in 2008 makes two arguments, said Stephen Kidder, the NFL Players’ Association tax counsel who represents both players.
To begin with, Saturday was rehabbing an injury at that time and didn't even make the trip to Cleveland, Kidder said.
"Cleveland is attempting to tax Jeff Saturday despite the fact that he never stepped foot in the city limits," Kidder told IBJ on Wednesday. "That really is unprecendented in terms of the reach of a city or state. … He was forced to pay taxes because his employer went to Cleveland."
In addition, Saturday is arguing against the way that Cleveland determines the taxes owed.
Typically, visiting athletes are taxed in relation to their number of “duty days”—the number of days per year that they work, doing such things as playing, practicing and training. If a pro football player spends two days in a given jurisdiction, and there are 200 duty days in a year, 2/200ths of his income would be taxed by the jurisdiction, Kidder said.
But under Cleveland’s system, the player’s income is divided by the number of games played during the year—a much smaller number that makes his taxable income much higher.
"Cleveland chooses to argue that athletes are only paid for playing in a game," Kidder said. "The impact of all this is that Cleveland is grabbing income for other days of service that are rendered elsewhere."
Cleveland city attorneys have argued that the way the city calculates players' income tax is fair, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
"The 'games-played' method is certainly reasonable … since players are paid to do one thing—play in games," city attorneys stated in a brief with the Board of Tax Appeals, according to the Plain Dealer.
Saturday is seeking a refund of $3,294, and Hillenmeyer wants $5,062. The long-term stakes for Cleveland are much higher, the Plain Dealer reported. City officials have estimated that Cleveland could lose $1 million a year if it had to switch to a “duty days” system.