There are two inevitabilities in life, death and taxes. No matter your profession, income level, or position in society, you are required to pay taxes. It is a civic duty in which many take pride, yet others protest. Professional athletes are no exception. Athletes live their lives under the watchful eye of the news media and public. Professional athletes earn far more than the average person and for the most part are respected individuals within their communities. The considerable salaries that athletes collect can often be increased with valuable endorsements and sponsorships. Along with the additional income comes increased tax responsibilities, which the government is eager to collect from public figures.
Athletes in America with tax issues are forced to deal with the dreaded Internal Revenue Service. The IRS relentlessly pursues those convicted of tax crimes and has a notorious reputation for fighting to receive every dollar they believe is owed. These tax scandals have involved some of the most prestigious and skilled athletes in their respective sports. Tax scandal has been a chapter in the stories of heavyweight champions, Hall of Famers, and baseball’s all-time leader in hits. These tax scandals often clash with the glamorous lifestyles that athletes publicly lead.
Sports Illustrated estimated that 78% of athletes file bankruptcy or are under financial stress within two years of retirement. Athletes are faced with a reality where they earn very high salaries during increasingly short career windows. These years of tremendous earning power are short and many athletes lack proper financial advisement during these years. At the end of their careers many professional athletes are left in the highest tax bracket and may often have other financial commitments such as alimony and child support. The following ten athletes are unlikely to shed a smile when they submit their tax returns every year before April 15.
10. Lawrence Taylor – NFL Hall of Fame Linebacker – $120,000 Owed to the IRS
Lawrence Taylor spent his NFL career terrorizing opposing quarterbacks. During that career he earned record breaking salaries for a defensive player. He also appeared in several films including The Waterboy and Any Given Sunday. In 2000, he was sentenced to 90 days of house arrest for filing a false tax return. This came after Taylor admitted to not paying over $83,000 in taxes between 1991 and 1993. He also admitted to filing a false tax return in 1990 when he failed to pay over $40,000 in taxes. Taylor later drew headlines when he was convicted of having sex with an underage prostitute in 2011 and was forced to register as a level one sex offender.
9. Pete Rose – Baseball legend – False Tax Returns Totaling Over $500,000
Pete Rose retired as Major League Baseball’s all-time leader in hits. His incredible player career was followed by a stint as manager of the Cincinnati Reds where he was found to have placed bets on baseball games. He was banned from baseball in 1989, never earning induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1990, Rose plead guilty to filing false tax returns from 1984 to 1988, when he failed to report fees earned from personal appearances and autograph signings. His tax problems continued in 2003 when he was found to owe $151,690 for problems with his 1998 tax filing. Unlike the 1990 case, which earned Rose a five month prison sentence, he was able to negotiate a settlement.
8. OJ Simpson – NFL Hall of Fame running back – $515,000 owed to IRS
OJ Simpson has had a controversial life following his football career. After his football career and acting appearances, he was embroiled in the historic murder trial involving his ex-wife and her lover. Despite being found not guilty, his legal troubles continued. He was found guilty of the murder in a civil case and, in 2007, was sentenced to 33 years in prison for his involvement in a sports memorabilia theft at the Palace Station Casino. In 2013, he was hit with tax liens in excess of $515,000 by the IRS and was forced to auction his Kendall, Florida home in order to repay debts. Simpson is eligible for parole in 2017.
7. Mel Blount – NFL Hall of Fame Cornerback – $631,000 owed to IRS
Mel Blount is an NFL legend. Blount spent his entire 13-year NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he won four Super Bowls and made the Pro Bowl five times. After retiring from football in 1983, Blount was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989. Following his playing career, he served as Director of Player Relations for the NFL and opened two Mel Blount Youth Homes, one in Toombs County, Georgia and the other in Claysville, Pennsylvania. In September 2009, the IRS filed a civil action in federal court in Pittsburgh that accused Blount of owing more than $631,000 in income taxes. After a lengthy court battle, the once dominant cornerback had the charges dismissed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Linehan in June 2011.
6. John Daly – Professional Golfer – Tax Lien Over $1 Million
John Daly’s public struggles with alcohol, gambling, and multiple divorces have earned him a permanent space in the spotlight. Daly’s addictive personality has led him to drink between 26-28 cans of Diet Coke and smoke 40 cigarettes per day. His legendary exploits have made headlines in recent weeks, with estimates that he has gambled away roughly $57 million. In 2010, John Daly also found himself in trouble with the IRS. He was served with a federal income tax lien of $1,050,733 in Shelby County, Tennessee for his 2007 and 2008 taxes.
5. Mike Tyson – Former Heavyweight Boxing Champion – $2 million Owed to IRS
Mike Tyson has lived a tumultuous life in virtually every sense of the word. Following an extremely successful boxing career where he earned purses valued at over $300 million he filed bankruptcy in 2005. Since then he has been fighting with the IRS in order to repay his debts which were estimated at $23 million in 2005. In recent years, Tyson has re-emerged on the public scene with an appearance in The Hangover and an HBO Special: Mike Tyson the Undisputed Truth. He claimed that all of the proceeds from these went directly to the IRS. However, in April 2014, Tyson revealed that after writing a hefty check to the IRS, he was notified that the IRS had forgiven him of $2 million in tax debt.
4. Boris Becker – Tennis Champion – €1.7 million Owed From 1991 to 1993
Boris Becker is one of the most famous German athletes of all time. Becker won three Wimbledon Men’s titles and six total majors. During his career, it is estimated that he achieved personal fortune of €150 million. However, divorce and a ten-year tax evasion investigation has taken its toll on the tennis great, who was forced to sell his villa in Munich. In 2002, he was sentenced to two years of probation by a German court for failing to pay €1.7 million in taxes between 1991 and 1993. Becker admitted his guilt and has paid more than €3 million in back taxes and interest owed.
3. Helio Castroneves – IndyCar Champion – Acquitted of $2.3 Million Tax Fraud Charges
Helio Castroneves is one of IndyCar’s most successful drivers. He has 23 career wins including three at the Indianapolis 500, but the battle of his career took place in a court room. In October 2008, Castroneves was charged with six counts of tax evasion and one count of conspiracy. Castroneves pled not guilty, while the IRS claimed he owed over $2.3 million in taxes. The charges centered on a contract Helio had signed with Penske Racing in the wake of driver Greg Moore’s death and a Panamanian company called Seven Promotions. After nearly two years in court, Castroneves was acquitted on all six counts of tax evasion and the remaining conspiracy charge was dropped.
2. Lionel Messi – FC Barcelona Superstar – Currently Facing Tax Fraud Charges of €4.2 million Owed
Lionel Messi is one of the greatest footballers of all time. He currently earns an annual salary in excess of €50 million from his wages, sponsorships, and endorsement agreements. Messi has recently found himself at the center of a Spanish investigation into his finances, which revealed that Messi has failed to pay €4.2 million in taxes on earnings from his sponsorships. He is set to appear in court later this year to face the charges and, along with his father, could face fines or possible jail time. The charges allege that Messi and his father set up tax shelters in Belize and Uruguay in order to avoid paying taxes in Spain.
1. Manny Pacquiao – Boxing Champion – Tax Fraud Allegations of $50 Million
Manny Pacquiao has had a legendary career entertaining fans in the ring. In his career, he has won ten world titles across four different weight classes. His accomplishments within the ring are unique and entertaining, while his contributions outside of the ring as a Filipino Congressman are also notable. His charitable public persona was challenged in both Philippine and American court. The Philippine government accused Pacquiao of avoiding taxes of over $50 million, these charges were eventually dropped when Manny showed proof of tax payment in America.
The charges were reopened in November 2013 when the proof was determined inadequate, leading to Pacquiao’s bank accounts being frozen by authorities. The US Federal Government also claimed that Manny owed over $18 million in taxes from 2006 to 2010. Promoter Bob Arum claims that 30% of Pacquiao’s purses were paid directly to the IRS via electronic funds transfer. Pacquiao is now threatened with wage garnishment when making deposits to his Philippine accounts.
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