Editorial: Is Pittsburgh bullying out-of-town jocks?
It can be hard to think of jocks as being bullied.
The whole idea turns everything we know on its head. Jocks don’t get pushed around, right? They’re the ones who get the attention, the ones who make up their own rules.
Except maybe they don’t.
In a lawsuit filed in Allegheny County, two hockey players, a former baseball player and the players’ associations of Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the National Hockey League allege that pro athletes aren’t being treated fairly in Pittsburgh. At least not the ones from out of town.
The issue is a chunk of change taken out of the paychecks of players when the New York Yankees play at PNC Park or the Philadelphia Flyers come to PPG Paints Arena or when the Dallas Cowboys show up at Heinz Field. Come from elsewhere to play in Pittsburgh, and you have to pay the piper.
Since 2005, the city has charged a 3% nonresident facility usage fee on the portion of a salary that an entertainer or athlete makes while working at the three publicly funded venues. It comes to about $5.5 million a year.
But the lawsuit says it’s really a tax.
“It’s not a fee, and it is applied only against visiting athletes. We think it’s completely unfair and unconstitutional under both the Pennsylvania Constitution and the U.S. Constitution,” said plaintiffs attorney Stephen W. Kidder of Boston.
Maybe he’s right. What it really is right now, though, is a good question.
There is a difference between a fee and a tax. Pittsburgh isn’t the only one that charges it, but maybe Pittsburgh is the place to work out how it is being assessed.
Sure, it’s hard to feel too bad for professional athletes losing an extra slice out of a big paycheck, but not every player is a marquee name pulling in top dollar. A fee assessed on the stars is also assessed on the guy pulled up from the minors for one game, plus all those other non-celebrities who work and travel with the teams.
The city isn’t answering questions about pending litigation. Those being sued rarely do. But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be thought given to what is charged, who is charged and how it is charged.
Because if they can take the proverbial lunch money from a 300-pound nose tackle, they can probably take it from the little guy even easier.