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A College Football Player Lost His Scholarship Because of YouTube Videos. Now He's Fighting Back.

"They really put my college career on hold just for exercising my right to free speech," says Donald De La Haye, former kicker for the Central Florida Knights.

Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire DBA/Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire/NewscomLeslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire DBA/Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire/NewscomWhile technically a nonprofit, the National Collegiate Athletic Association pulls down nearly $1 billion in annual revenues, thanks in large part to multi-million-dollar deals with television networks that want to showcase America's best college athletes playing football, basketball, and a bunch of other sports.

There's nothing wrong with that, of course. The market for televised sports is hotter, and more valuable, than it's ever been.

But when one of those valuable student-athletes had the nerve to earn a few thousand dollars running a popular YouTube channel—one that gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a college football player—the NCAA told him to give up his videos or give up his place on the team. When he chose to keep making videos, his scholarship to attend the University of Central Florida was revoked by the school.

Now, Donald De La Haye, the former kicker for the UCF Knights football team, is ready to take legal action against the university unless his scholarship is restored.

"It's really tough," De La Haye said in a video from July, shortly after he learned that his scholarship would be revoked. "I'm not doing anything wrong. I'm not making money illegally. I'm not selling dope. I'm not kidnapping people or robbing people. I'm not selling my autographs for money. I'm not sitting here getting Nike checks and Nike deals and all these sponsorships. I'm literally filming stuff. I'm sitting here, editing things on my computer for hours and developing my own brand. I put in the work, and I'm not allowed to get any benefits from the work."

There's nothing illegal about the videos De La Haye posts to his "Deestroying" account on YouTube. They feature his daily routines and workouts. Others include funny moments with friends and teammates. And some—like one where he destroyed a flat-screen TV by kicking it off the top floor of a parking garage—are just downright weird and funny.

The videos have gained De La Haye quite a following. He's got more than 350,000 subscribers, enough to earn money from the advertisements YouTube allows on high-end accounts. According to SocialBlade.com, a website that assesses the potential value of social media accounts, De La Haye could earn somewhere between $2,000 and $31,000 a month.

In the video announcing the NCAA's ultimatum to him, De La Haye says he was sending some of his YouTube money to his family in Costa Rica, because they have "tons of bills piling up and there's no way for me to help."

That didn't matter to the NCAA, which in July told Central Florida that De La Haye would be ineligible to play college football unless he stopped making videos about football—though he would have been allowed to make videos about other topics (videos that would likely get fewer views and earn the student-athlete less advertising revenue), the Orlando Sentinel reported at the time.

After De La Haye decided not to agree to those terms, the football team dismissed him and the university revoked his scholarship. He was given 72 hours to remove himself and all his belongings from university housing. With no where else to turn, he ended up living with a friend and sleeping on a sofa.

The NCAA claimed De La Haye violated bylaw 12.4.4, which says a student-athlete "may establish his or her own business, provided the student-athlete's name, photograph, appearance or athletics reputation are not used to promote the business." Never mind that it's exactly what the NCAA does when it sells college football to television audiences.

More importantly, De La Haye has a First Amendment right to record himself and post those videos to YouTube. Attorneys for the Arizona-based Goldwater Foundation and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a pair of free market think tanks, have taken up De La Haye's case.

"Freedom of expression is one of our fundamental rights guaranteed through the United States Constitution," says Robert Henneke, director of the Center for the American Future at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. "Donald did not forfeit his rights to free speech simply because his athletic gifts allow him to pay for his college education through a football scholarship."

Courts have held that universities may not withhold benefits like scholarships on a basis that violates an individual's First Amendment rights, Jon Riches, the director of national litigation for the Goldwater Institute, pointed out in a letter sent this week to Central Florida.

The NCAA's rules limit what student-athletes may do, but the university is solely responsible for issuing and revoking scholarships. That Central Florida would pull a scholarship from a student-athlete who has been an upstanding member of the collegiate community is "an astonishing result," Riches wrote, "considering universities throughout the country impose far less severe punishments against students who commit actual misconduct."

In a new video posted this week, De La Haye said he hopes to open the way for other student-athletes to be allowed to express themselves on social media without fear of losing their scholarships or NCAA eligibility.

"They really put my college career on hold," he says, "just for exercising my right to free speech."

Photo Credit: Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire DBA/Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire/Newscom

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  • Eidde||

    So, yeah, the NCAA doesn't have to follow the 1st Amendment, but state universities do. So if the NCAA punishes someone for exercising their First Amendment rights, the government isn't allowed to pile on by adding its own penalties.

  • Robert||

    How is it punishment to withdraw a scholarship that specifies the student isn't allowed to make $ that way? The student would be ineligible to play (the NCAA & opposing teams would see to that), & the scholarship was contingent on his eligbility.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    How is it not punishment? You can argue whether it's just I guess, but it's clearly a punishment.

  • Robert||

    It's just enforcement of a contract term. You stay eligible, you get the scholarship.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Yes, and the consequences for an act like that that is considered negative is called punishment.

  • Careless||

    yes, BUC, you're agreeing with Robert over and over. Try to come up with a reason that doesn't mean they should be able to pull his scholarship.

  • KBeckman||

    He violated the terms of his NCAA contract not his scholarship.

  • Careless||

    And do you think the terms of his football scholarship might have included being NCAA eligible?

  • KBeckman||

    It's possible, but without seeing the contract it's hard to say. Sports scholarships have to be renewed yearly so terms could change from one year to the next.

  • Eidde||

    Bear in mind that criminals have a First Amendment right to write about their crimes, and they cannot be denied the profits of their writing simply because the topic is their own conduct.

    But athletes can't get paid for speaking about their athletic activities. Makes sense. /sarc

  • Robert||

    No, they can be denied the profits of their writing. They're allowed to write & publish.

  • Robert||

    Oops, sorry.

  • <Unpastable>||

    Apples and oranges. The NCAA is not trying to seize the money he's making from the videos.

  • Trollificus||

    All it would take is for any Big 5 conference, say...the SEC, to say "So, we owe you how much money for 'negotiating a TV deal?. Mmmm....how 'bout "Fuck you we'll negotiate our own deal. And we'll kick you in 0%. How's that for negotiating?"

    Hell, Alabama by itself could break the NCAA.

  • Mitsima||

    Yeah, it's not they're gov't agents or something.

  • Jerryskids||

    That Central Florida would pull a scholarship from a student-athlete who has been an upstanding member of the collegiate community is "an astonishing result," Riches wrote, "considering universities throughout the country impose far less severe punishments against students who commit actual misconduct."

    Not quite so astonishing if you consider that scholarships for student-athletes are granted on a 100% athlete, 0% student basis. They didn't give that kid a scholarship so he could be a scholar, they gave him an athleteship to play football. If the NCAA says he can't play football, he ain't worth a green nickel to the school as a student.

  • Eidde||

    One of the pitfalls in associating with a private group which restricts its members' free expression.

    Suppose they had a rule requiring Democratic Party membership, would the college be able to revoke a scholarship for someone who violated *that* rule?

  • Trollificus||

    That is exactly what is being argued, and don't give them any ideas.

  • mortiscrum||

    As long as both sides signed on the doted line, there's no such thing as a coercive or exploitative contract, right?

  • 68W58||

    The NCAA is a sham-it needs to die;

    http://www.theatlantic.com/mag.....ts/308643/

    The Olivers went home to Ohio to find a lawyer. Rick Johnson, a solo practitioner specializing in legal ethics, was aghast that the Baratta brothers had turned in their own client to the NCAA, divulging attorney-client details likely to invite wrath upon Oliver. But for the next 15 months, Johnson directed his litigation against the two NCAA bylaws at issue. Judge Tygh M. Tone, of Erie County, came to share his outrage. On February 12, 2009, Tone struck down the ban on lawyers negotiating for student-athletes as a capricious, exploitative attempt by a private association to "dictate to an attorney where, what, how, or when he should represent his client," violating accepted legal practice in every state. He also struck down the NCAA's restitution rule as an intimidation that attempted to supersede the judicial system. Finally, Judge Tone ordered the NCAA to reinstate Oliver's eligibility at Oklahoma State for his junior season, which started several days later.

    Continued

  • 68W58||

    The NCAA sought to disqualify Oliver again, with several appellate motions to stay "an unprecedented Order purporting to void a fundamental Bylaw." Oliver did get to pitch that season, but he dropped into the second round of the June 2009 draft, signing for considerably less than if he'd been picked earlier. Now 23, Oliver says sadly that the whole experience "made me grow up a little quicker." His lawyer claimed victory. "Andy Oliver is the first college athlete ever to win against the NCAA in court," said Rick Johnson.

    Yet the victory was only temporary. Wounded, the NCAA fought back with a vengeance. Its battery of lawyers prepared for a damages trial, ultimately overwhelming Oliver's side eight months later with an offer to resolve the dispute for $750,000. When Oliver and Johnson accepted, to extricate themselves ahead of burgeoning legal costs, Judge Tone was compelled to vacate his orders as part of the final settlement. This freed NCAA officials to reassert the two bylaws that Judge Tone had so forcefully overturned, and they moved swiftly to ramp up rather than curtail enforcement."

  • Stephdumas||

    South Park is right on target when they compared NCAA to slave owners.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vy2anVZToi0

  • chemjeff||

    Wow. That is quite an article.

  • Trollificus||

    All it would take is for any Big 5 conference, say...the SEC, to say "So, we owe you how much money for 'negotiating a TV deal?. Mmmm....how 'bout "Fuck you we'll negotiate our own deal. And we'll kick you in 0%. How's that for negotiating?"

    Hell, Alabama by itself could break the NCAA.

    Also misposted to a comment above, but still true.

  • Robert||

    I don't see why you're taking the student's side in this. A prohibition on an athlete's making $ based on his reputation as an amateur athlete is a standard interpret'n of amateurism, as was the case with the Rugby Union, the Olympics, and other organiz'ns that governed amateur athletics under a condition of strict amateurism. This student's previously existing scholarship agreement allowed the college, but not himself, to make $ off his football skills, & monetizing a YouTube that's of value partly because he was truthfully identified as a football player is an obvious violation of that agreement.

  • target||

    but how do you identify to what if any extent his viewership is related to his football career, and what part is interest in the content he creates? He could be cooking hotdogs out of a food truck in his spare time, and through word of mouth "hey you know that football kicker guy? he's makes these amazing hotdogs, you should check them out", and that could be deemed as him making money from his football fame. Success at literally anything he does could be attributed to his football career.

  • Robert||

    It's not a matter of anything like quantifying damages, but of doing things specifically as a result of your being a player. He identified himself in a sponsored YouTube as a player; he could easily have been anonymous or at least unidentified as such.

    If he makes amazing hot dogs, that has nothing to do with his playing football. If he advertised the hot dogs as being made by him, & as his being a football player, then that'd be a different matter.

    A common way for people trying to take forbidden advantage of their position is by accepting honoraria for speaking. Politicians do that, & the assumption is that the reason they're getting an honorarium is because of the office they hold. For the same reason, amateur athletes are not allowed to take speaking fees. Howard A. Stern used to complain to his staff on the air about their getting various benefits from 3rd parties that they wouldn't get absent their being associated w the show; they're not supposed to capture any of that, it's the station's "property", which the station itself stands to monetize.

    Frequently someone who's become a celebrity as an athlete can benefit from that celebrity later, but if they're no longer participating as an amateur, that's fine. Same thing if they turn pro in that sport. The rules have to do w eligibility at that time, not prospectively.

  • Ben of Houston||

    The problem is that the "amateurism" bit a a laughingstock. College football is a multi-billion dollar industry in which every single person gets rich except the players on the team, who get what is at most a $50,000 salary in free tuition and housing for a more than 40 hour workweek in a dangerous environment with an injury rate that would get OSHA's hammer on any other industry, including near universal long term brain damage. In addition, the schooling is actively sabotaged by the activity. Then, to top the cake, less than 10% of these athletes make it to the sports leagues and get paid a dime for their years of work.

    If you go to a state school, the scholarship is closer to $20,000. That's a minimum wage job while college football coaches are among the highest paid public employees in the country.

    Then, compare the active support that colleges have given to criminal activity by student athletes, up to and including covering for repeat rapists.

    On it's own, I would agree that the amateurism contract should be respected. However, the entire college athletics system is critically broken, and the situation is absurd on its face.

  • Wanderer||

    Yes, you summed it up

    There was a similar situation developing in rugby, so the IRFU did the correct thing and scrapped the "ammateur" bullshit for top level leagues. It's high time the NCAA does the same for its football and basketball programs.

    If NCAA insists on keeping the status quo, it's high time the antitrust authorities start having a look on how NCAA operates.

  • Juice||

    There's nothing wrong with that, of course. The market for televised sports is hotter, and more valuable, than it's ever been.

    Um. No.

    They're actually losing subscribers and people are ditching cable just because of the outrageous sports channel fees.

  • Juice||

    I'm not sitting here getting Nike checks and Nike deals and all these sponsorships.

    You should be though.

  • Ben of Houston||

    I think you aren't getting the point. The schools are getting large sponsorship deals from Nike. The NCAA has multi-billion dollar trade deals. The top coaches get paid $5-10 million per year to coach these "amateur" teams.

    On the other hand, the students are not allowed to get a dime directly, indirectly, or even tangentially from football. They are not even allowed to get paid to coach a kiddie league team during the summer.

    In short, they need a player's union.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    The whole tangled relationship between college sports and professional sports is a Gordian knot crying out for an Alexander. Among other matters, colleges that profit off of student athletes should be paying them a salary. The NFL really needs to be told to develop its own farm team system.The list goes on.

  • Robert||

    It's all about the tax laws. Intercollegiate sports have the advantage of not-for-profit status. There'd be unlikely to be big-time varsity sports otherwise.

  • gah87||

    If there was true competition among universities and athletic conferences, I'd be more inclined to buy the argument of non-coercive contracts, etc. However, this is no free market. NCAA is a national cartel among nearly all universities: a government-sanctioned and subsidized monopoly. The students don't stand a chance.

  • Robert||

    I'm sure terms are similar in the NAIA & the NJCAA.

    You think terms might be better in Canada? The CIAU doesn't allow athletic scholarships at all!

  • chemjeff||

    All of the money in the big-time Division 1 college sports really is corrupting on the mission of an institution of higher education. Plus it's simply not fair to the athletes.

  • DesigNate||

    Aren't they getting paid in a free education that the rest of the student body is paying tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars for?

    That's not to say that the NCAA rules aren't complete and utter bullshit, but they aren't actually slaves.

    (3rd parties profiting off the students likeness, etc is a whole other bag of worms.)

  • KBeckman||

    The average sports scholarship is only $10,000 and has to be renewed yearly.

  • <Unpastable>||

    Depending on the school, the "free education" is often a sham. They do get free room & board, but then again so did slaves.

  • Trollificus||

    Somehow, I suspect that the average Fortune 500 company views the "education" received by scholarship athletes to be...how shall we say...less than impressive. And they are very correct in that.

    Good point about the slaves getting free room and board, too, Then when they went on YouTube and made videos, the plantation owners confiscated the money, because "They're only making money because of their status as official slaves." Per the contract with the NSOA (National Slave Owners Association).

    Gotta love that argument. If you're a lawyer.

  • IceTrey||

    What an idiot. Stay in school while you sue over the ruling.

  • josh||

    The biggest reason amateurism endures is because most people like to pretend it still exists.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    "While technically a nonprofit, the National Collegiate Athletic Association pulls down nearly $1 billion in annual revenues, thanks in large part to multi-million-dollar deals with television networks that want to showcase America's best college athletes playing football, basketball, and a bunch of other sports.

    There's nothing wrong with that, of course. The market for televised sports is hotter, and more valuable, than it's ever been."

    Fuck up number one. There's plenty wrong, ultimately in how it distorts everything about sport activities associated with higher ed. And how it distorts any higher ed associated with big sports.

    "But when one of those valuable student-athletes..."

    Fuck up number two. First, the obvious failure of many players to achieve much if any academic success. Second, the pretense that running farm teams for the NFL and NBA is a higher ed mission. Third, the continuous shenanagans and gymnastics that players, their buyers and handlers, and university enablers go through year after year.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    "The NCAA's rules limit what student-athletes may do, but the university is solely responsible for issuing and revoking scholarships. That Central Florida would pull a scholarship from a student-athlete who has been an upstanding member of the collegiate community is "an astonishing result," Riches wrote, "considering universities throughout the country impose far less severe punishments against students who commit actual misconduct."

    Fuck up number three. De La Haye should have done what most football players do wrong, like date-raping a few co-eds and crashing his "borrowed' BMW into the school pond. THAT would have gotten him a reprimand (and counseling plus extra tutoring) at worst.

    So the Euro-socialists might have gotten at least one thing right: universities there support teaching and research (and protesting) but not sports, beyond phys-ed student activity stuff.

  • Trollificus||

    The date-raping, car-compensated, drunk driving (we'll just assume, okay?) athlete in your example might also be subjected to a half-game suspension against a bought-and-paid-for cupcake opponent. It's call "Disciplinary Action Theater."

  • New construction windows||

    I'd be more inclined to buy the argument of non-coercive contracts, etc. However, this is no free market.

  • The Laissez-Ferret||

    Not true. He can go play minor league football (yes, it exists), arena football, or the Canadian Football League. It's not the NFL but they are professional leagues where you don't have to play college football.

  • MoreFreedom||

    Why aren't government employees held to the same standard, and not permitted to engage in commerce other than their job?

    Employers routinely fire employees for sexual harassment, but not in Congress or government. Why aren't they held to the same standard? Consider how quickly a student can get thrown out of a university for a mere allegation of sexual harassment without due process.

  • <Unpastable>||

    I don't see how he has a first amendment case here. He could have continued making videos and kept the scholarship -- the NCAA was just demanding that he not monetize the videos. There is no right to profit from one's free speech.

  • Trollificus||

    @

    There may not be a right, but can you actually say it's not right? See, that's the difference between lawyers and human beings. Not all human being have the ability to make moral judgments drilled out of them.

  • Trollificus||

    Cool, it worked as advertised!

  • Brandon||

    Why is this a Reason.com article?

    "may establish his or her own business, provided the student-athlete's name, photograph, appearance or athletics reputation are not used to promote the business."

    This is a conflict over the details of a contract between a private individual and a private organization. Furthermore it's something that occurs in contracts all over the country. Why the hell should we care about this specific contract conflict?

  • Robert||

    Let's see. Eric Boehm invests some time researching what he's heard is a 1st Amendment legal case. Eventually finds out it's about contract enforcement, but decides that he should make use of the time he's invested & write the article. How's that?

    No, doesn't work, because he could still have written the analysis to explain why this is not a free speech case.

    So maybe he finds a state school & the NCAA are parties. Easy to jerk his knee vs. a state school. Plus, it concerns organized football, & there may be vibes around spilling over from the stadium stories around here that imbue HyR w a certain anti-football-organiz'n ethos. So a completely superficial take based on zeitgeist?

  • RobertFl||

    hard to argue with that. Those rules came about because we didn't want colleges enticing students to their schools with the lure of money. This is the fall out.

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