Olivia Dunne, a gymnast at the Louisiana State University and a social media influencer, was at the center of a controversy last weekend that has forced LSU to increase their security measures. During a gymnastics meet between the LSU Tigers and Utah Utes, fans of Dunne nearly fell over one another chanting her name, carrying life-size cutouts of her, and holding handwritten signs reading "We Want Livvy," making so much noise they disrupted the routines of other competing athletes.
Afterward, throngs of young men surrounding the arena's entrance and exits waiting for Dunne forced LSU to move its bus so the team could board safety. The incident was called "unhinged" and "disturbing" by reporters and people in the gymnastics community.
Dunne is no average college athlete. She has more than 6.7 million followers on the social media platform TikTok and is one of the highest paid NCAA athletes.
Here is what we know about Dunne and her internet stardom.
Who is Olivia Dunne and why is she popular?
Olivia Dunne, 20, from Hillsdale, N.J., is a junior communications studies major at LSU. According to the school's athletic website, during her freshman season in 2021, she was selected as an Academic all-American athlete (a national recognition honoring academic and athletic achievements by student-athletes) and was named to the First-Year SEC Academic Honor Roll. She says she began practicing gymnastics at the age of three. In 2018, she competed at the national championships alongside Olympic gymnasts Simone Biles and Sunisa Lee where she placed 18th all-around.
On social media, Dunne goes by another name - Livvy. She has a combined following of more than 10 million followers on TikTok, Instagram and Twitter. On TikTok, which hosts her largest following, she posts videos ranging from difficult flips on the balance beam, dancing in a bikini, to participating in trendy dance challenges with other influencers. In a five second video posted Tuesday, Dunne shows off her flexibility and does the front splits. The video has attracted 10.8 million views in three days.
Dunne's social media notoriety isn't lost on her university. The LSU athletic website lists her social media handles with links before her official bio, unlike the bios of the other 18 gymnasts on the 2023 roster.
Dunne's stardom extends to legacy media, too. In 2019, Inside Gymnastics Magazine named Dunne on their list of 50 Most Photogenic gymnasts. Last year, she attended and walked the red carpet at the ESPY Awards in Los Angeles.
Why LSU athletics increased security at gymnastics competitions
LSU announced they are stepping up security measures after aggressive and disruptive fans tried to meet Dunne at the team's season opener in Salt Lake City on Jan. 6.
"I take our team's safety and security very seriously," LSU gymnastics head coach Jay Clark told reporters on Wednesday. "We will have security detail with us now when we go on the road and we will be working to create a perimeter around where we get on the bus, where we load."
Although Dunne did not compete in last Friday's meet due to a shoulder injury, it didn't stop swarms of mostly young men from attending the competition.
"They made themselves very much a part of the environment. They were drawing attention away from what was going on on the floor," Clark said. "So it was a little bit disconcerting, I think, the level of intensity that went with it. There was a mob-like kind of feel out there, and that was disconcerting to me as someone who takes the responsibility for the welfare of our kids."
Clark also said the program is looking into policy changes so families of athletes can meet their daughters at a different location after competitions.
Former NCAA athlete and 2008 Olympic gymnast Samantha Peszek tweeted a video on Jan. 7 of screaming fans, who were mostly young men, outside the exit of the Jon M. Huntsman Center waiting for Dunne. Peszek, who is now a sports broadcaster, wrote over Twitter, "This is actually so scary and disturbing and cringey. I'm embarrassed for them. . ."
ESPN/SEC Network commenter Kathy Johnson Clarke, who was at the competition, wrote on Twitter that the young men were screaming to her, "Are you Livvy's mom? Are you Livvy's mom?"
In another tweet, Johnson Clarke said this "should be a teachable moment" for the men. "They were excited to see in person someone they follow on social media along with 4+ million other obsessed fans, but they had no idea how to comport themselves during the competition or after."
Dunne responded to the incident in a tweet saying, "I will always appreciate and love the support from you guys, but if you come to a meet, I want to ask you to please be respectful of the other gymnasts and the gymnastics community as we are just doing our job."
How does Dunne make money?
Dunne told the New York Times last November that she makes "seven figures."
In July 2021, the NCAA allowed college athletes the right to monetize their name, image and likeness (NIL). Almost immediately, high-profile college athletes signed lucrative agreements with national brands. In women's basketball, the Cavinder twins of the Fresno State women's basketball team partnered with Boost mobile and football stars revealed custom logos for new apparel lines.
On the day of the NCAA announcement, Dunne was featured on a digital billboard in Times Square with videos from her social media. In a promo video uploaded on LSUsports YouTube channel, Dunne said, "I really love gymnastics and I really love social media. So I thought, 'Why not do both?' And LSU is the perfect school for that. I came here and my social media just kept growing."
Last August, Dunne signed with WME Sports, the same agency that represents sports stars such as Joe Burrow, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic.
One of Dunne's first brand deals was with the activewear brand Vuori. Forbes wrote that the "mid-six figure" deal means Dunne agreed to take part in marketing campaigns over the next two years, which includes promotional photoshoots and attending events.
She has had sponsorships from Spotify, American Eagle, L'Oreal and Grubhub.
"I feel like everyone now has an equal opportunity to make money," Dunne said in the college YouTube video about NIL.