U.S. Supreme Court Refuses To Hear Cleveland “Jock Tax” Appeal

Six months ago, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the City of Cleveland’s method of taxing pro athletes, based on “games played” rather than on “days spent” in the city, violated the players’ due process rights. The city appealed the decision to the US Supreme Court and, yesterday, the court refused to hear the case and thus the state court ruling was upheld.

Cleveland’s use of the games played method was unique among Ohio cities that impose a city income tax. It treats professional athletes as if they were paid only to play in games and not, as National Football League players are also paid to do, for days spent in minicamps, preseason camps, team meetings and practice sessions.

How this plays out is that under the method used by the larger cities in Ohio other than Cleveland, an NFL player based outside Cleveland who would travel to play a game in Cleveland for two days during a 160-day season would be taxed on 1/80th (2 days divided by 160 days) of his income. However, under the method used by the city of Cleveland, a visiting NFL player would be taxed on 1/20th (1 game divided 20 games including exhibition games) or five percent of his income.

With the US Supreme Court declining to hear the City of Cleveland’s appeal, the city must either adopt the “days spent in the city” method, or come up with some other constitutional way of taxing professional athletes.