NIL? Don’t Mind If I Do!
What the Supreme Court ruling means for college gymnastics
By Lela Moore, Special to The IX
Lela Moore is a sportswriter currently moving houses between Brooklyn and New Jersey, along with a partner, a kid, and a cat. She became a gymnerd, like every other child of the 80s, after the 1984 Olympics, and would like you to know she can still do a back tuck (preferably on a trampoline or a diving board, though, given the state of her back). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Teen Vogue, Bleacher Report, FanSided, Healthline, and beyond. She is delighted to be covering for The IX and Jessica Taylor Price for the next two weeks.
As of July 1, all American NCAA athletes can make money selling rights to their name, image, and likeness (NIL for short). This rule change, a sea change for college athletics in general, is nothing less than seismic for female gymnasts.
Most NCAA athletes in sports like basketball and soccer are at the beginning of their top-level careers in college. But gymnasts tend to be in their teens when they first have the kind of success (both in the sport and, relatedly, on their social media platforms) that could translate into endorsements. Prior to the NIL rule change, this meant that many young gymnasts made decisions about accepting endorsements without knowing whether they were marketable, and closing themselves off to the college recruitment process. Her choices were black and white: Make money but lose an opportunity to go to college for free, or compete in college with no guarantee of marketability based on her NIL after graduation.
But this week, Olivia Dunne of LSU, the most-followed athlete in the NCAA with over 5.5 million followers on all platforms, will be represented by WME. Dunne is the famed talent agency’s first NIL signing.
And we also saw Olympic gold medalist Sunisa Lee head to Auburn. The fifth American in a row to win the all-around title, she is the first in that streak to move on to the NCAA. She called it her version of celebrating. It is a decision made possible for her, almost certainly, by the NIL rule change.
This week, Lee moved into her freshman dorm at Auburn, gave a presser, and got a nice callout in the football stadium. To paraphrase Annie, I think she’s gonna like it there. (As if all that wasn’t enough, she also posted a new tattoo of the Olympic rings in an Instagram story, a reminder that she can indeed have it all.)
Lee’s Olympic teammate Grace McCallum and Olympic alternate Kara Eaker, along with fellow freshman Sage Thompson, moved into their Utah dorms Thursday. McCallum and Eaker will also benefit, no doubt, from their Olympic fame and the NIL rule change.
Kyla Ross, the first woman to win Olympic, world, and NCAA titles (but who was unable to benefit from NIL during her college career) will be the volunteer assistant coach at Arkansas, joining her 2012 Olympic teammate and fellow Bruin Jordyn Wieber, the Razorbacks’ head coach, and Felicia Hano, her UCLA teammate and the team’s assistant coach. There’s some speculation that she’s honing her skills before Clemson snatches her up for their program (which would be a pretty big get for those other Tigers). Who will be the next UCLA alum to head south?
Konnor McClain announced that she has committed to LSU, the Tigers’ first recruit for its 2023 class. After watching McClain on “Golden,” I hope she benefits from a renewed focus on gymnasts’ mental health over the next couple of years and becomes a star in college. (To say nothing of her elite pursuits, should she continue on that path.)
We saw some international Olympians also head to the NCAA. They won’t be able to benefit from NIL like their American teammates, but we are so excited to welcome them to our shores and our TVs! Team GB’s Amelie Morgan, she of the clutch beam routine, will start at Utah this fall. And Iowa State signed Spanish Olympian Marina Gonzales.
New Florida Gator Bri Edwards posted a photo of herself with fellow freshmen Leanne Wong, Sloane Blakely, and Riley McCusker. The photo caused a little stir because McCusker’s in a boot. We hope it’s not too serious and we see McCusker thrive in Gainesville.
Big News from the FIG
The FIG announced on August 20 that one-touch warmups will return to event finals. Many gymnasts during the course of the Tokyo Olympics had asked the sport’s international governing body to reconsider reinstating the one-touch (which was removed to benefit the television broadcast).
MyKayla Skinner posted a new video to her YouTube channel about the Olympic swag she received. Of course, it wouldn’t be Skinner if there wasn’t some drama, and she fanned the flames a bit when the first version of her video showed her criticizing the food she ate while in Tokyo as “gross.” The video came down, and when it reappeared later the same day, the offending line about food was cut. The gymternet argued, as the gymternet does, about whether Skinner was being a brat or not. Lauren Hopkins of The Gymter.net weighed in, tweeting that she stayed in the same business hotel as the American team while covering the Games, and saying that the food was both not great and not really Japanese, either.
Shallon Olsen reportedly defended her college coach, Dana Duckworth of the University of Alabama, in DMs to another Twitter user against the allegations of racism and microaggressions made by former Crimson Tide gymnast Tia Kiaku. Kiaku spoke out last summer about her experience at Alabama, and it would seem that Olsen is on the wrong side of justice here, but it’s hard to tell since she hasn’t said anything publicly that we can tell. Olsen moved in at Bama this weekend to begin her senior year.
Japan named its worlds team. Murakami Mai, fresh off her Olympic floor bronze, will be joined by Hatakeda Hitomi, Hiraiwa Yuna, and Ashikawa Urara. Worlds will be held in Kitakyushu, Japan, in October.
Australia will not send a team to Worlds. Previously, the Spanish women and New Zealand also pulled out.
The GOAT Gets GOATier
Grace McCallum, Jade Carey, Shilese Jones, and Chellsie Memmel (via Inside Gymnastics) each announced appearances on Simone Biles’ Gold Across America Tour, on the heels of the announcements by MyKayla Skinner and Jordan Chiles that they, too, would participate.
Memmel’s announcement came with the news that the woman who makes gymnastics look easy after childbirth x2 will not try for Worlds this year. “I am not where I need to be for that,” she said, explaining that her bars are not ready.
But, in case you were worried, “I do not plan on retiring,” Memmel said. “I am still having too much fun in the gym to be done after the tour!”
Simone Biles told Will Graves of the AP that a focus of the tour will be mental health, in an effort to be “as relatable as possible” to the audiences.
Required Media Consumption (Gymnastics-Related):
Simone Biles spoke to People about her recovery from the twisties.
The city of Phoenix declared August 17 Jade Carey Day
British Gymnastics says they’re sorry, and they promise to do better. Is it enough, though? (Also, I hope the Downie sisters are sitting there with some mad side-eye.)
Oksana Chusovitina was honored with street art in Uzbekistan.
It was Lilia Podkopayeva’s birthday on August 15. Now go watch her iconic gold-medal floor routine from the 1996 Olympics. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Check out this podcast episode that examines whether it’s ethical to watch gymnastics.
Tweet of the Week: The mutual love between Suni Lee and China’s Guan Chenchen, Olympic beam champion.