UPDATE (6/19/17): In the nine days since he released a video about his choice between keeping his athletic scholarship at UCF or continuing his YouTube channel, Donald De La Haye has heard from hundreds of supporters on social media. But the most meaningful message came from Oakland Raiders punter Marquette King. De La Haye says King called him "funny as hell" and told him not to let the NCAA hold him back.
The message, De La Haye says, was one of several signs that prompted him to post a follow-up Sunday announcing his decision to continue making videos. Because he won't demonetize his channel, he will potentially be in violation of NCAA rules that disallow student-athletes from profiting from their names or athletic reputations.
"I'm just at peace right now," De La Haye says. "I've been struggling in making my decision, but I know where I stand now personally. I don't know where I stand with the NCAA, but that's okay. I'm happy with where I am."
De La Haye says he hasn't spoken with anyone in UCF's compliance office about his decision, but he will continue producing videos two to three times a week until he is instructed to stop. And if he is eventually given an ultimatum, De La Haye says he would leave college football and train for the NFL while continuing to make YouTube videos. He hasn't considered taking any kind of legal action against the NCAA, but he says he won't be afraid to speak out publicly against the organization.
"If the NCAA goes against what I believe in, I will tell people how I feel," he says. "I'm not going to do it just to do it; I'll wait for my verdict. But if I need to state my opinion, I won't be afraid."
For most of his life, Donald De La Haye has found the most joy in two places: on the field and in front of a camera. And for most of his life, those two passions have lived in perfect harmony. But now he may be forced to make a choice.
On Friday, in a meeting with a UCF compliance officer, De La Haye learned that continuing to earn money off his popular YouTube channel could cost him his athletic scholarship and his place as a kicker on UCF's football team. According to NCAA bylaw 12.4.4, 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." And more than half of De La Haye's "Deestroying" channel videos touch on the topics of kicking or campus life.
"It was surprising," De La Haye says. "I feel like I'm owned by the NCAA. They can use my name and my likeness to make money off of me, but I can't. I'm not out here selling autographs. I'm not boasting that I'm a UCF player. Any other YouTuber with the same amount of subscribers would make the same amount of money as me. It's a senseless rule, in my opinion, especially in the age of social media."
A native of Costa Rica, De La Haye traces his passion for creating videos to his father, with whom he shares a name. De La Haye Sr. was always armed with a video camera at every major family function, including all of his son's soccer games. And when the younger De La Haye turned 13, he decided to start making videos himself, at first recording and editing Call of Duty gameplay. In middle school, he and his best friends, Troy and Malik, would make sketches about life at school and in their neighborhoods.
When he arrived at UCF in 2015, he decided he wanted to create a library of his videos and watched as his number of subscribers—now more than 55,000—skyrocketed. When he realized he could earn extra income for his family back home through his channel, he started applying lessons he'd learn at school as a marketing major. Even after his marketing classes end each semester, he keeps his favorite textbooks to reference regularly.
"If anything, I feel like I should be rewarded for what I'm doing, not punished," he says. "I don't want to toot my own horn, but I feel like I have a talent. I try to inspire people and to bring smiles to their faces."
Although De La Haye declined to say how much money he had earned from his channel, a similarly sized YouTube channel could earn between a few hundred and a couple thousand dollars a month. De La Haye, who likely relies on per-stream royalties and appears to have no sponsors, may earn something in the neighborhood of $1 per 1,000 views. "I'm a child who cares about his family," he says. "I want to help out. I want to make things easier for them. This is how I have been able to do that. That's the most difficult part."
On Saturday, De La Haye posted an emotional plea on his channel after receiving the news. Since then, he says, he has barely slept and has had trouble focusing on his schoolwork as he wrestles with deciding what to do next.
On one hand, he feels he owes it to his family to complete his college degree. On the other hand, he believes he has more long-term potential to earn money from making videos than from playing football. (Last fall he appeared in every game, but solely as a kickoff specialist.) For now, he is hoping the school will help him apply for a waiver and that the NCAA will allow him to keep his scholarship—and his earnings. An NCAA spokeswoman told B/R on Tuesday that the organization hadn't received a waiver yet and wasn't currently reviewing the situation.
The NCAA is facing increasing legal and public perception pressure to allow student-athletes to earn income, particularly from their names and likenesses—a restriction that isn't applied to any other college students, even those on scholarships. On Friday, former UNLV basketball players Dylan and Dakota Gonzalez told Slam their decision to forgo their final year of eligibility to focus on their music careers was "90-95 percent" due to NCAA rules.
"Times are changing," De La Haye says. "If any other college kid wants to be an entrepreneur and take the things he's taught in the classroom and use them, they'd be praised for it. Why can't we? If all of us student-athletes come together and try for change, it will at least get looked at. It seems like the NCAA wins a lot of battles, but we have to at least try to create change."
De La Haye says he has received nothing but support from UCF staffers, coaches and teammates, but the school must tread carefully given that it only recently was taken off probation from a series of NCAA football and basketball sanctions issued in 2012.
"I love UCF," he says. "I'm blessed, and I know that. I just feel like it's unfair that I'm being treated differently as a student-athlete. For me to have to choose between two things that I love, for this to be happening to me—it's heartbreaking," he says. "I don't want anyone else to have to suffer through something like this."