Politics & Government

Sen. Richard Burr slammed for tweet about taxing the scholarships of student-athletes

On Tuesday, a U.S. Senator from North Carolina united people in a way that’s rarely seen in politics.

Unfortunately for Sen. Richard Burr, the social media mob was against him.

From a Playboy reporter to the publisher of a conservative magazine, Burr drew fierce pushback on Tuesday for a tweet about how the government should treat student-athletes.

The NCAA’s Board of Governors voted on Tuesday to consider updating rules to permit athletes to be compensated for their name, image and likenesses -- a move that could change the landscape of college athletics. In response, Burr tweeted:

“If college athletes are going to make money off their likenesses while in school, their scholarships should be treated like income. I’ll be introducing legislation that subjects scholarships given to athletes who choose to ‘cash in’ to income taxes.”

Burr played defensive back for Wake Forest football in the 1970s and lettered for the Demon Deacons in 1974 and 1975, according to the school. He suffered a significant knee injury in 1975 and missed the entire 1976 season. He played in a few games in 1977, according to a 2013 story in Wake Forest Magazine, but did not letter.

Rep. Mark Walker, a Greensboro Republican, has been a leading proponent of a bill in Congress to allow college student-athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness. He has called it a “civil rights issue.” Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, has been a proponent of changing the college sports system to allow athletes to receive more benefits.

Walker responded to Burr’s tweet with a tweet of his own: “If scholarships are income, that makes them employees, not student-athletes. This isn’t about income. It’s about basic rights that every other American has to their own name.”

Roughly an hour after Burr tweeted, his comment generated 6,000 responses -- most of them negative -- and less than 900 “likes.”

The criticism came from the left and the right.

“You could sell a t-shirt with your own smiling face on it to your friends and (Burr) would want to tax your scholarship. What a stupid backwards garbage idea,” tweeted Ben Domenech, co-founder of The Federalist, a conservative website.

Some argued that Burr’s tweet has racist undertones.

Adam Best, a liberal activist, summarized Burr’s view this way: “Shorter Richard Burr: Taxing white billionaires is bad, but taxing black athletes is good.”

“Approximately 60% of college basketball and football players are black. I wonder why Richard Burr suddenly became pro-tax increase?” tweeted Christopher Hale, a Democratic pundit.

Others seemed downright surprised that a Republican would propose a new tax.

For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Domecast politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it on Megaphone, Apple Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

Brian Murphy contributed.

Related stories from Charlotte Observer

Paul “Andy” Specht reports on North Carolina leaders and state politics for The News & Observer and PolitiFact. Specht previously covered Raleigh City Hall and town governments around the Triangle. He’s a Raleigh native who graduated from Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C. Contact him at aspecht@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4870.
Support my work with a digital subscription