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Third-ranked Utah gymnastics hosted sixth-ranked LSU in Salt Lake City for its season-opener on Friday night and Olivia Dunne fans were out in full force. It led to a scene unlike any other in the sport, for both good and for bad.
Dunne, 20, is one of the biggest names in collegiate athletics. She has 6.6 million followers on TikTok, 2.7 million followers on Instagram and an estimated NIL valuation of more than $2.5 million.
Where most college gymnasts are not typically household names on a national level, Dunne has become an icon. Her monumental popularity led to an increased interest in gymnastics, created a larger involvement of casual fans, and draws more eyes to the sport.
Dunne’s impact on gymnastics is overwhelmingly positive, and she is not afraid to clap back at her haters. Additionally, while her ability to build a brand that capitalizes from the free market NIL landscape is impressive, she is also a remarkably talented athlete.
However, with that being said, there is also a negative side to the adoration of Dunne, as with anything. It was on full display at Utah and led to claims of disrespect toward other athletes, as well as a security issue.
As the Tigers began their season on the road against the Utes, Olivia Dunne was not in the lineup.
She continues to deal with labrum injuries. That did not stop a group of male fans from showing up to cheer for her with Dunne-specific signs.
Dunne even took the time to greet some of her fans after the meet concluded.
While their attendance and fandom was harmless, if not encouraged, it reached a point that crossed a line. They repeatedly chanted “we want Livvy” over Utah and LSU gymnasts throughout the night despite the fact that she was not competing.
That took away from the sport itself and the interest in the meet of those around them. Their support for gymnastics was not genuine.
They were there for Olivia Dunne and only Olivia Dunne.
And that’s okay— so long as it comes from a place of respect.
Following the meet, which the home team won 197.275-196.775, a large group of mostly male fans gathered outside of the Huntsman Center and waited for Dunne. 2008 Olympic silver medalist and current commentator Sam Peszek shared video of the scene and two-time Olympic medalist Kathy Johnson Clarke responded with her account.
Police had to keep them at bay, and the Tigers had to move their team bus to avoid the crowd.
Waiting for Dunne after the meet is not unlike how fans wait for the star quarterback after a game. It is not uncommon. It speaks to her impressive ability to build a brand.
Claims of disrespect, though, is where the issue lies.
According to one Utes gymnastics fan, the group of Olivia Dunne fans were “saying rude things and swearing.” She said that those occurrences were only heightened after police told them that Dunne would not be coming out to greet them.
Utah junior gym athlete Jillian Hoffman‘s mother, Jennifer, also shared her experience on Facebook.
I am a mother of a Utah gymnast, as we were walking to the car the group swarmed my daughter and her teammate. They literally said to their faces, you are not Livvy but you will do, can we get a picture. [The group] also called my daughter Livvy 2.0. They were so rude and disrespectful. It was very hard for mama bear not to come out.— Jennifer Deeds Hoffman
Hoffman later clarified her comments. She made it abundantly clear that Jillian and her Utes teammate were not “harassed, assaulted or harmed in anyway.”
[Jillian and her teammate] were approached by a large group of teenage boys, disappointed that LSU had already left the arena and they wouldn’t be getting the photos of their dreams. They did not know the girls names. They just wanted photos with gymnasts and were disrespectful in the things they were saying. End of story!— Jennifer Deeds Hoffman
You heard Hoffman! End of story.
Approach gymnastics with proper intent.
To support Dunne and the sport of gymnastics with genuine interest is one thing. It is admirable.
To simp toward Dunne is another thing. It is going to happen, by nature of her following, and can be done without being problematic.
Here is what she had to say:
Katherine Dunne, Olivia’s mother, also addressed the incident. She responded back to Karen Groth, who is the mother of Auburn gymnast Sophia Groth and has since deleted a tweet about Olivia posting videos while wearing Victoria’s Secret.
Using deprecating language like “you are not Livvy, but you will do,” if that was truly said to Jillian Hoffman and her teammate, is unacceptable. To chant over athletes in competition is unacceptable.
Dunne’s impact on gymnastics cannot be understated. It is overwhelmingly good.
Go out and support Dunne. Go out and support college gymnastics.
But in doing so, keep respect at the forefront. Gymnastics is awesome.
Take the time to learn the sport. Take the time to learn the names of athletes beyond Olivia Dunne. Appreciate the athleticism and talent for what it is, not for anything less. Don’t speak down to women, like Jilian Hoffman’s mother alleged.
All of the common societal rules apply, and it’s important to put them at the forefront.
One athlete having millions of followers on social media doesn’t offer an excuse to treat other athletes as lesser. It doesn’t provide a lane for objectification. It certainly doesn’t offer room for undeserved ridicule.
Keep the thing the thing— and that thing is respect.