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NJ’s Olivia Dunne defines what college athletes can earn with NIL

Louisiana state gymnast Olivia Dunne is one of the most well-known athletes on social media.

The 20-year-old college junior has 2.4 million Instagram followers – and industry analysts reckon her name, image and likeness, or NIL rating, are worth just as much. It’s estimated that a single social media post from Dunne is worth $31,000.

The prominent college star hails from North Jersey and has strong ties to the local sports scene. A Hillsdale native, she has a long history with the Eastern National Academy of Paramus, representing her in national and international competitions, including on the US national team.

Dunne’s sporting achievements are of course impressive. During her freshman year as an LSU Tiger, she was named an All-American. But a big part of her legacy will likely be the impact she had on collegiate athletics in this brave new world that is NIL. Thanks to new rules taking effect in the summer of 2021, collegiate athletes can capitalize on their name, image and likeness through sponsorship deals — and what a year and a half it’s been.

The economics of NIL are complex – and often private. It’s unclear how much Dunne makes. Earlier this month, she told the New York Times that her earnings are somewhere in the “seven figures.”

“I’m proud of that,” she told the Times. “Especially since I’m a woman in college sports.” She added, “Most women’s sports don’t have professional leagues after college.”

In the early days of NIL, women emerged as the clear winners. Female collegiate athletes have long received less investment and less airtime – consequently resulting in less profit compared to the male side of collegiate sports. Although collegiate athletic departments are required to provide equal investment for women’s and men’s sports thanks to Title IX, experts have told me that lack of enforcement can often overlook these inequalities.

NIL is in many ways a silver lining for female athletes. They can now make a living from sport in a way no athlete before them could. As Dunne alluded to, women’s prospects for making money in their chosen sport after college are often limited.

What Dunne has achieved is no easy task. Experts believe her earnings are a landslide ahead of her peers, according to data collected by ON3, a digital media, data and marketing company for collegiate sports. The company compiled the top 10 NIL ratings for female collegiate athletes last month.

At the top of that list is Dunne. With 8.74 million followers across all social media platforms, Dunne has a NIL rating of $2.3 million and is valued at $31,000 per post. For comparison, the second athlete on the list is fellow athlete Sunisa Lee, who became a national sensation last summer after winning Olympic gold with Team USA in Tokyo. With 31.5 million followers, Lee has a NIL rating of $1.5 million and is worth $21,000 per post.

Of course, NIL is not immune to the bigger issues surrounding women’s sport. For example, this top 10 list includes only two athletes of color, including Lee. Athletes of color historically have had significantly less money and media attention than their peers, as seen in some professional leagues like the WNBA. In a way, NIL is renewing this conversation – and offering a real opportunity to level the playing field.

American gymnast Olivia Dunne

As Dunne continues to rise to zero fame, she remains at heart an athlete who fell in love with her sport.

In a 2020 video posted to her club’s Instagram account, a 17-year-old Dunne talks about being a team captain, what she loves to do outside of her sport and her proudest accomplishment as a gymnast to date. She also talks about what it feels like to be a gymnast. “With gymnastics it feels like defying gravity for a split second – and then you have to be ready to land,” she says.

In many ways, Dunne defies what it means to be a collegiate athlete in 2022. And it sure will be exciting to see where she ends up next.

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