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America's Class Warfare Spills Into Sports

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Golf pro Phil Mickelson recently sounded off about having to pay high state income taxes in his beloved California, and even after he apologized for his remarks, he continued last week to be attacked and condemned in both the mainstream press and the sports world.

All Michelson stated was: "There are going to be some drastic changes for me because I happen to be in that zone that has been targeted both federally and by the state, and it doesn't work for me right now...So I'm going to have to make some changes."

The Californian native from San Diego said he was thinking about packing up his family and moving, like other wealthy athletes like Tiger Woods already have, to a millionaire's paradise refuge in Florida where there's no state income tax (and where the Beach Boys need to finally admit that the girls are better looking too).

Michelson was indeed portrayed as being truly more evil than last week's sports villains doping bicyclist Lance Armstrong or the deceitful Notre Dame Football star Manti Teo. His complaints about forfeiting over 60 percent of his winnings and endorsement monies to California and federal coffers were much judged much worse than if he admitted to Oprah that he juiced up before hitting the first tee of the Masters or that he confessed to Katie Couric that falsely capitalized on sympathy surrounding his wife's breast cancer debacle to become PGA Golfer of the Year.

His scandalous sin of moral turpitude: The left-handed golfer stood convicted in the uber leftist court of public opinion of the crime of being "a pampered one percenter" who was just "whining about paying his fair share."

Here's the logic behind the crime: In the minds of the accusers, it comes down Mickelson having the luxury of playing golf everyday and making an inordinate amount of money doing it while almost all other Americans have to work at crappy jobs to make less than 1 percent of what he grosses if they are lucky.

How dare this rich, pampered athlete complain about paying more than his fair share of taxes, when there are so many Americans struggling out there to make ends meet beyond the plush fairways of exclusive golf courses where Michelson "works."

There's no allowance allowed for Michelson being truly a real mensch, one of the few, true role model athletes in a day and age of where sports are dominated by professional pampered thugs, liars, and cheats.

And it's so wrong to damn "Lefty" Mickelson as a member of a true, American leisure class.

He's not one of those uber wealthy tycoons living a decadent life of luxury, whether it be in Palm Beach, Palm Springs or Silicon Valley, who continue to amass wealth and fabulously exist off the dividends of accumulated wealth and who really don't have to worry about paying taxes at all

Despite his success and wealth, he continues not to play, but actually toil under grueling circumstances characterized by incredible pressure and constant media exposure to conquer an unforgiving game where true perfection is never accomplished. Golf's a sport of masterful competitors where one does not sit at near the top for long, even if you are Tiger Woods, unless he or she continuously labors incredibly hard.

Mickelson was complaining about nothing more than what the rest of working Americans are kvetching about this month too -- all of us are now giving up more of our paycheck or profits back to the government as a result of the new tax laws passed to compensate for federal and state budgetary deficits and inefficient management.

Mickelson is actually one of those sports figures that Americans should really still admire, no matter how much he pays in income taxes. A kid from a middle class background who worked extremely hard his whole life to master what is probably the hardest sport in the world, he certainly paid his dues to rise to the top of his profession, all with a great amount of class and sportsmanship.

Sadly, marginalizing Michelson's tax frustrations as basically criminal illustrates that the populist obligatory egalitarianism that now characterizes our dysfunctional political dialogue sadly now dominates the sports world too.

Mickelson is not your average American. He's set a standard of individual excellence, both on and off the golf course. He continues to prove that he's one of the best in very difficult occupation, and should not have apologized or have been maligned for wanting to keep as much of his hard-earned income as possible in his wallet.

An edited version of this article appeared in the Florida Voices on January 27, 2013.

Steven Kurlander is an attorney and communications strategist. He writes weekly columns in the Sun Sentinel and Florida Voices and blogs in Kurly's Kommentary. He can be emailed at

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