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What is the "Jock Tax"?

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Last week, Deadspin posted a tipster's shot of Andrew McCutchen's bi-monthly paystub. It features some pretty large numbers that are liable to make you wish you'd tried a little harder in Little League. But you can also see that he gets taxes taken out of his paycheck in a number of states and cities. In fact, there are so many deductions that after Pittsburgh, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, St. Louis, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Arizona, Ohio, and Cincinnati the list continues on another (unshown) paystub.

Those numbers reflect the so-called "Jock Tax," which requires traveling professionals to pay income taxes in every state where they earn money. The colloquial name comes from the fact the tax, which can technically be applied to anyone who earns money in a state where they don't live, is essentially only ever levied against professional athletes because of their publicly-known salaries and traceable work schedules. (Athletes generate so much money in taxes that some states, like California, have specialized employees in their revenue departments who work exclusively on athletes’ tax returns.)

The earliest mention of applying this law to athletes in particular comes from an incident in 1968 when an appeal was brought before the State Board of Equalization of the State of California for taxes owed by a player on the San Diego Chargers who didn't live in the state.

But it didn't start to be enforced in full until 1991. In the NBA finals that year, the Chicago Bulls defeated the Los Angeles Lakers four games to one. As the story goes, the officials in California who had influence on these things were so enraged by the loss that they decided to take it out by levying taxes against Bulls' star Michael Jordan on the bountiful earnings and winnings he'd made while playing in their fine state. In response, Illinois passed a bill that was colloquially known as "Michael Jordan’s Revenge," which imposed their income tax specifically on anyone from a state that taxed Illinois residents. Or, athletes from California.

Since then, more than a dozen other states passed their own bills to tax out-of-state athletes for the games played there, and even a few cities followed suit. By now every state with a professional sports franchise, with the exception of Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Washington, and the District of Columbia, imposes the "jock tax." Lawmakers tout these taxes as a way to fund athletic venues without saddling constituents with the full cost.

For athletes raking in serious salaries, these daily taxes can add up. Especially if there are winnings involved. For the 2014 Super Bowl held in New Jersey, players on both the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks were taxed for their time in the state at a rate of 8.97 percent. A fraction of their oversized income is added to whatever bonuses they earn—$92,000 per player for the winning team, $46,000 for losing players—and even the Super Bowl ring, normally valued at $20,000 to $25,000, to calculate the earnings to be taxed. Although the Broncos ended up losing, if they had won, Peyton Manning, who made $15 million last year, would have owed around $60,000 in taxes.

Of course it's easy to say athletes can afford it. But the staff that travels with the team, like trainers and equipment managers who don't make millions, also have to pay taxes to every state in which the team plays.

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Big Questions
Are There Number 1 Pencils?
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Almost every syllabus, teacher, and standardized test points to the ubiquitous No. 2 pencil, but are there other choices out there?

Of course! Pencil makers manufacture No. 1, 2, 2.5, 3, and 4 pencils—and sometimes other intermediate numbers. The higher the number, the harder the core and lighter the markings. (No. 1 pencils produce darker markings, which are sometimes preferred by people working in publishing.)

The current style of production is profiled after pencils developed in 1794 by Nicolas-Jacques Conté. Before Conté, pencil hardness varied from location to location and maker to maker. The earliest pencils were made by filling a wood shaft with raw graphite, leading to the need for a trade-wide recognized method of production.

Conté’s method involved mixing powdered graphite with finely ground clay; that mixture was shaped into a long cylinder and then baked in an oven. The proportion of clay versus graphite added to a mixture determines the hardness of the lead. Although the method may be agreed upon, the way various companies categorize and label pencils isn't.

Today, many U.S.  companies use a numbering system for general-purpose, writing pencils that specifies how hard the lead is. For graphic and artist pencils and for companies outside the U.S., systems get a little complicated, using a combination of numbers and letters known as the HB Graphite Scale.

"H" indicates hardness and "B" indicates blackness. Lowest on the scale is 9H, indicating a pencil with extremely hard lead that produces a light mark. On the opposite end of the scale, 9B represents a pencil with extremely soft lead that produces a dark mark. ("F" also indicates a pencil that sharpens to a fine point.) The middle of the scale shows the letters and numbers that correspond to everyday writing utensils: B = No. 1 pencils, HB = No. 2, F = No. 2½, H = No. 3, and 2H = No. 4 (although exact conversions depend on the brand).

So why are testing centers such sticklers about using only No. 2 pencils? They cooperate better with technology because early machines used the electrical conductivity of the lead to read the pencil marks. Early scanning-and-scoring machines couldn't detect marks made by harder pencils, so No. 3 and No. 4 pencils usually resulted in erroneous results. Softer pencils like No. 1s smudge, so they're just impractical to use. So No. 2 pencils became the industry standard.

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Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
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Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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