In November 2022, LSU gymnast and Olivia Dunne fired back at The New York Times after they published a column with the headline, “New Endorsements for College Athletes Resurface an Old Concern: Sex Sells.” The cover photo was Dunne in her LSU leotard.
But what we didn’t know until now was that Dunne’s courage to speak up against the column, where she posted the same photo to her Instagram Stories and wrote “Is this too much?” while tagging the publication, landed her spot in Sports Illustrated’s coveted Swimsuit Edition for this year.
Dunne’s social media presence, which includes a whopping 7.6 million on TikTok and 4.2 million on Instagram, grows by the day. It’s led her to numerous opportunities to profit thanks to NIL deals, which has made her one of the highest-grossing college athletes in the country.
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Those deals were the premise behind The Times reaching out to Dunne for an interview, which she agreed to. Little did she know the publication had another angle they wanted to write about.
“[The New York Times] wrote a hit piece about me,” Dunne said on the “Full Send Podcast” recently. “It was complete BS. I mean, they called me on the phone in November and they told me that they were going to write about my accomplishments and stuff and I was like, ‘OK, for sure. That’s awesome. The New York Times. That’s huge.’”
Dunne appeared to be excited for the interview, but was a bit taken aback by the questions the interviewer had when they connected over the phone.
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“The interviewer called me and he was asking me very odd questions. It was worded quite weird,” she explained. “He was like, ‘So, how does it feel to be a small petite blonde gymnast doing so well with NIL.’ I was just like, ‘Why does it matter that I’m petite and blonde.’ You can just ask me about NIL without you having to use these weird ways of saying it.”
The cover photo was done by The Times as well, with Dunne meeting their photographer in LSU’s gymnastics facility where she wore her “team-issued leotard.”
“That’s what we have to wear,” Dunne said in reference to leotards in competition. “When the article came out, it was a giant picture of me just standing there in a leotard and the headline was ‘Sex Sells.’ So I was like, ‘So, you’re going to come into the gym. You’re going to ask me to pose in our team-issued attire and then put a headline, ‘Sex Sells.’
“In the article, they were saying the things I was doing were a step back for women’s athletics.”
Dunne was quick to respond and Sports Illustrated followed suit.
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“I guess it caught Sports Illustrated’s attention and then they were like, ‘We loved that you clapped back at The New York Times since they’re so major,’” Dunne said.
Dunne, who still has a senior season left to compete in college gymnastics, continues to be the face and person many companies and brands want to associate their products with. She added that she will continue to work with the ones she feels fits her message and what she believes her followers can get behind.
What she won’t do, though, is apologize for the way she looks when doing so.
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“You can’t control how you look and I feel like a girl is not responsible for a boy’s bad behavior, especially if you’re in a leotard,” she said. “Because I knew that if the roles were reversed and let’s say they went into the football facility and took a picture of one of the boys without a shirt on, they would never put a giant headline, ‘Sex Sells.’ They just wouldn’t. It’s because I’m standing there in a leotard.”