The 2021 changes to laws regarding college athletes’ ability to earn income have changed the playing economic playing field for some athletes. Most of the endorsements and big paydays go to men in Division 1 football, but some female athletes are also doing quite well.
Women seeing money for their hard work in college may seem like a victory for Title IX. Still, critics out there argue that it’s a step back from equality if “pretty” athletes are selected as influencers and spokesmodels rather than the best college athletes of their generation, regardless of their looks.
A battle between style and substance
This classic debate between style and substance plays out everywhere in popular culture. Still, the issue is particularly acute in women’s elite-level sports, where money is usually, compared to men, scarce. Such was the case with Olivia Dunne, a gymnast for LSU who makes an estimated $2 million annually as a 20-year-old with 8 million followers on social media and a few significant endorsements.
This payday puts her at the level of future professionals and Olympic stars like basketball phenoms like Paige Bruekers and Azzi Fudd of Connecticut and Gold Medalist and Auburn gymnast Suni Lee who have become millionaires while in college. While she was an all-American as a freshman and made the honor roll as a sophomore, Dunne is a young, white, petite blonde with traditional good looks whose images and videos attract attention.
Not a new issue in sports
Conventionally attractive women in sports are nothing new. In the past, they often had a hard time being taken seriously — professional tennis player Anna Kournikova fell into this category. But Dunne is not alone: other female athletes in sports like figure skating, track and field, volleyball, and gymnastics that epitomize the female as beautiful, graceful, and lithe are finding revenue streams using their name, looks and business acumen to get theirs.
A step back?
In the age of social media, the exploitation tropes are fading just a bit. Suppose the athlete is a pretty woman wearing beautiful clothes or showing off their physique. In that case, it is more likely today that the athletes are calling the shots, whether advertising and endorsements, suggestive photos, silly dance videos, or arty body images.
Those who choose not to make their looks a part of their brand can still make it work, focusing on athletic gear, food, headphones, finance, or hair products. It does not attract the same level of scrutiny or money. But however you look at it, anyone who puts their face, body, voice, or opinion out there puts themselves in the crosshairs. The key for college athletes is to do what feels right for them and go from there.