It really is this simple, but then again it’s not: Donald De La Haye, a former kicker with UCF’s football team, says he lost his scholarship because he’s a popular YouTube personality.
That’s why the former student-athlete — a backup kicker during the 2016 season — has decided to press charges against University of Central Florida’s athletic director Danny White, President John Hitt, members of school’s Board of Trustees and a number of other officials, claiming administrators disregarded his constitutional right to free speech.
In the lawsuit, which was filed on Jan. 25, De La Haye says he offered to demonetize the posts – in YouTube-speak, that means he was making money off advertisements when viewers tuned in, but offered to stop – that referenced him as a student-athlete or posts that showed him doing anything related to the sport he was on scholarship for at the time.
Prior to the 2017 season, the university ruled De La Haye ineligible due to NCAA rules, thus revoking his scholarship. In the opinion of UCF officials, the YouTube channel was a violation of the NCAA's rule against student-athletes using their status for financial gain, such as De La Haye's revenue stream from the videos on his channel.
UCF officials reportedly spoke with De La Haye on the matter on numerous occasions, but the videos continued. Administrators even went as far as to get a waiver from the NCAA that said the kicker “could maintain his eligibility and continue to monetize videos that did not reference his status as a student-athlete or depict his football skill or ability,” which, per the agreement, would have even included a video of De La Haye tossing a football on the beach with his girlfriend. (That's just the NCAA's rules, folks.)
However, De La Haye is said to have decided against accepting those conditions. From there, UCF ruled him ineligible – and the Knights went on to run the table throughout their undefeated 13-0 season, which ended with an American Athletic Conference championship and a win over Auburn University in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day.
“They wanted me to give up my money that I made, which is crazy,” De La Haye said in a video last year, following the news of his ineligibility. “I worked hard for it and you just want me to throw my money away and take down my videos, which again, I worked so hard for and wasn’t comfortable doing.”
He continued: “So I told them no.”
The NCAA’s statement following De La Haye’s decision to not accept the conditions emphasized that the situation at hand wasn’t about monetizing YouTube videos – just about monetizing sports-related ones:
“This is just so crazy to me, man. It’s really so crazy to me, man,” De La Haye said in a YouTube video. “I was just having innocent fun.”
De La Haye hopes to have his scholarship reinstated if UCF's policy is ruled unconstitutional.
In a September 2017 Facebook post, De La Haye captioned a picture of himself on the field prior to an NFL game in London. He writes:
"This picture was taken at an NFL game in London. Yes, I’m on the field with my camera, making videos and doing what I love. About a month and a half ago I made the biggest decision of my life. I chose to pursue my dream of being an entrepreneur and to continue on with my passion of making videos over playing college football. I received a TON of criticism. A ton of people called me “stupid” and said things like “your parents must be so ashamed of you, you’re such a fuck up.” Hearing those things hurt. But never did I stop believing in myself and what I was doing. Now I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I’m traveling the world at 20 years old, doing things most people don’t get a chance to do in their whole entire life and making good money all at the same time. All that is amazing, but what feels the very BEST is telling all them doubters and naysayers 'I told you so.' Always believe in yourself."
Here’s one of De La Haye’s most popular videos, prior to losing his scholarship: