Pro athletes, whether from teams based outside an Ohio city or within an Ohio city, are subject to different municipal income tax rules and requirements than employees who work or individuals who reside in a city. This is primarily because these athletes are “working” in the city for a relatively small number of days and, most importantly, they make large salaries that any Ohio city would like to tax. However, that scheme of taxation must be constitutional, fairly apportioned, and include due process.
Hunter Hillenmeyer played for the Chicago Bears and Jeff Saturday for the Indianapolis Colts. The city of Cleveland imposed its municipal income tax on these athletes based upon the number of games the visiting team played in the city divided by the total number of games in a season. This is in contrast to what most Ohio cities do, which is divide the number of days spent in the Ohio city by the number of days in the season, including practice days and pre-season workout days. As you can tell from simple examples, Cleveland would be able to subject a much larger percentage of an athlete’s income to taxation using its method (1/16th of his salary) versus the other cities’ formula (1/180th of his salary).
On April 30, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Cleveland’s system, known as the “games played” method, violates NFL players due process rights by treating them as if they were paid only to play in games and ignores everything else NFL players are paid to do, such as minicamps, preseason training camp, team meetings and practice sessions. While the Court did not strike down the law itself – i.e., the special, differential treatment of athletes – it did overturn the City of Cleveland’s interpretation of it.