New Endorsements for College Athletes Resurface an Old Concern: Sex Sells

Olivia Dunne is a gymnast on Louisiana State’s girls’s workforce.

She was an all-American in her freshman yr and made the Southeastern Convention’s honor roll as a sophomore majoring in interdisciplinary research.

Forward of the beginning of her junior season, Dunne can be at the forefront of a motion shaking the outdated foundations of faculty sports activities: a feminine scholar athlete raking in money because of the passage in 2021 of new rules permitting faculty athletes to signal title, picture and likeness, or N.I.L., offers.

Dunne, 20, gained’t give specifics on her earnings, which no less than one industry analyst projects will prime $2 million over the following yr.

“Seven figures,” she mentioned. “That’s one thing I’m pleased with. Particularly since I’m a lady in faculty sports activities.” She added: “There aren’t any skilled leagues for most ladies’s sports activities after faculty.”

Dunne, a petite blonde with a vivid smile and a gymnast’s toned physique, earns a staggering quantity by posting to her eight-million sturdy web following on Instagram and TikTok, platforms on which she intersperses sponsored content material modeling American Eagle Outfitters jeans and Vuori activewear alongside movies of her lip syncing fashionable songs or performing trending dances.

To Dunne, and plenty of different athletes of her era, being candid and flirty and exhibiting off their our bodies in ways in which emphasize conventional notions of feminine magnificence on social media are all empowering.

“It’s nearly exhibiting as a lot or as little as you need,” Dunne mentioned of her on-line persona.

The athlete compensation and endorsement guidelines have been a game-changer for collegiate girls, significantly those that compete in what are often known as nonrevenue sports activities, reminiscent of gymnastics.

Positive, male soccer gamers have garnered about half of the general compensation estimated to be value no less than $500 million, fueled by collectives shaped by rich supporters who pay male athletes for everything from jersey sales to public appearances.

Women are more than holding their own as earners thanks largely to leveraging their social media reputation. Together with Dunne, different feminine scholar athletes have been minted millionaires by the N.I.L. guidelines, together with Haley and Hanna Cavinder, twins who play faculty basketball at Miami; Sunisa Lee, the Auburn gymnast and Olympic gold medalist on the Tokyo Video games; and Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd, basketball stars at Connecticut.

However the brand new flood of cash — and the best way many feminine athletes are attaining it — troubles some who’ve fought for equitable therapy in girls’s sports activities and say that it rewards conventional female desirability over athletic excellence. And whereas the feminine athletes I spoke to mentioned they have been consciously deciding whether or not to play up or down their sexuality, some observers say that the market is dictating that selection.

Andrea Geurin, a researcher of sports activities enterprise at Loughborough College in England, studied feminine athletes making an attempt to make the Rio Olympics in 2016, a lot of them American collegians. “One of many large themes that got here out is the stress that they felt to submit suggestive or horny images of themselves” on social media, Geurin mentioned.

She famous that a few of the athletes had determined that making public such imagery wasn’t value it whereas others had discovered it was one of many major methods to extend their on-line reputation and incomes energy.

Scroll by the social media posts from feminine faculty athletes throughout the US and you can find {that a} important by line on most of the girls’s accounts is the well-trod and well-proven notion that sexiness sells. Posts catering to conventional beliefs about what makes girls interesting to males do properly, and the market backs that up.

Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer, probably the most profitable coach in girls’s faculty basketball, sees the a part of the N.I.L. revolution that focuses on magnificence as regressive for feminine athletes. VanDerveer began teaching in 1978, a digital eon earlier than the popularization of the web and social media, however she mentioned the know-how was upholding outdated sexist notions.

“I suppose typically we’ve this swinging pendulum, the place we possibly take two steps ahead, after which we take a step again. We’re combating for all of the alternatives to compete, to play, to have sources, to have services, to have coaches, and all of the issues that go along with Olympic-caliber athletics.”

“It is a step again,” she added.

Race can’t be ignored as a part of the dynamic. A majority of probably the most profitable feminine moneymakers are white. Sexual orientation can’t be ignored, both. Few of the highest earners overtly determine as homosexual, and plenty of submit suggestive photos of themselves that appear to cater to the male gaze.

Aside from the huge web audiences, none of that is solely new. The strain amongst physique picture, femininity and the drive to be taken significantly as athletes has been a part of the deal for feminine athletes for generations.

We are able to return roughly 70 years, as only one instance, to the period of the highest tennis participant “Gorgeous” Gussie Moran, who grew well-known as a lot for her body-hugging outfits and lacy underwear as for her tennis.

Within the Nineteen Nineties, the two-time Olympic gold medal-winning determine skater Katarina Witt was a Playboy cowl mannequin, and she or he’s hardly the one feminine athlete to point out up in risqué picture spreads.

Consider the Sports activities Illustrated swimsuit version or ESPN The Journal’s Physique Concern, by which suave images of nude athletes have hooked a principally male viewers for years. However these depictions additionally proceed to attract feminine athletes who see such shoots as an opportunity to advertise physique positivity, to really feel boldly assured concerning the physiques they’ve honed by onerous work, or to problem norms about femininity.

Feminine collegiate athletes are definitely making the most of a number of methods to current themselves — whereas at all times having to be cautious of society’s tendency to objectify.

Haley Jones, an All-America guard at Stanford and a candidate for the Participant of the Yr Award, mentioned she didn’t wish to play up intercourse enchantment. Her endorsement revenue is pushed by a social media picture that portrays her as a lighthearted student-athlete with out an overtly provocative tone.

“I don’t submit bikini footage,” she mentioned in a current interview. “Not as a result of I don’t wish to present my physique. It’s as a result of that’s not the highest matter kind of content material that I wish to submit, and my viewers isn’t on the lookout for that for me.”

Welcome to the world of Haley Jones, Inc.

Jones, among the many few Black feminine collegiate athletes thought-about to be a prime endorsement earner, has realized to rapidly deconstruct the professionals and cons of the brand new period of commercialization.

She has endorsements with Nike, Beats by Dre, SoFi and Uncle Funky’s Daughter, a hair-care product for girls with curly hair, amongst different firms. Rishi Daulat, her agent, mentioned Jones had remodeled six figures because the N.I.L. laws handed however declined to offer a particular determine.

Jones was fast to notice feminine athletes can select to not take part in social media and lose out on the largest income. Or they’ll participate, generate income, give attention to the supportive followers and maintain their breath with a form of resignation concerning the swath of on-line reactions — usually leering and sexualized feedback on their social media platforms — that present how a lot they’re objectified.

“You may go outdoors sporting sweatpants and a puffer jacket, and also you’ll be sexualized. I might be on a podcast, and it might simply be my voice, and I’ll face the identical factor. So, I believe will probably be there, it doesn’t matter what you do or the way you current your self.”

“That is the society we dwell in,” Jones added.

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