The Shifting Face of Amateurism: A Vlogger’s Tale

Yesterday, the University of Central Florida ruled its kicker, Donald De La Haye, ineligible of the 2017 season for profiting off his status as a Division I athlete. De La Haye maintained a popular YouTube blog (or “vlog”) where he chronicled his life as a college student and athlete. Unfortunately for De La Haye, the NCAA’s amateurism rules forbid student-athletes from, directly or indirectly, using their reputations as athletes to earn compensation. So because some of the vlog posts involve De La Haye’s experiences as a Knights football player, they could compromise his amateur status.

UCF tried to work around this dilemma by obtaining a waiver offer from the NCAA. Per the waiver terms, De La Haye could continue making money from posts about non-athletic subjects. But he had to separate those from his “athletically-related” videos, for which he could not earn compensation.

Despite UCF’s efforts, De La Haye stuck to his principles and rejected the NCAA’s offer. As a result, UCF feared that he had forfeited his amateur status and promptly declared him ineligible.

Fairness issues aside (i.e. UCF can profit from De La Haye’s status as a football player, but De La Haye cannot), the NCAA’s offer demonstrates how arbitrary its amateurism principles can be. As written, the NCAA by-laws addressing amateurism are strict. Athletes cannot use their athletic skills to earn any money, “directly or indirectly.” More specifically, when an athlete runs his or her own businesses, the athlete cannot use his or her “name, photograph, appearance or athletics reputation” to “promote the business.”

Therefore, based on the letter of the law, even if De La Haye took the NCAA’s deal, it is difficult to see how he would not still be on the wrong side of the amateurism rules. For one, technically, he would still be using his “name” and “appearance” to “promote” his vlogging business. In addition, he may have been using his “athletics reputation” as well. That is because his vlog following would be difficult to separate from his status as an athlete. College sports gave him a platform. That platform could have led people to his vlog. While the NCAA only envisions De La Haye profiting only from the non-athletic videos that those people watch, he may not have gotten those views without his athletic status. So wouldn’t this mean that, at least indirectly, he earned profit from his status as UCF’s kicker? And what is the difference between this and, say, Lamar Jackson appearing in a commercial for a Louisville car dealership where he only talks about the cars’ superior fuel efficiency?

It is possible that the NCAA’s waiver offer was an attempt to be human, to give De La Haye a limited exemption because his activity was not particularly dangerous. But if that is the case, why did the NCAA draw the line where it did? It’s not as if making videos about football is any more of a violation than using one’s athletic reputation to draw people to non-football videos. Plus, if the NCAA was trying to give De La Haye a break, why not go all the way and let him keep making money from all of his posts? The NCAA would not be safeguarding its values any more extensively by restricting only “athletically-related” vlog posts.

After awhile, the NCAA’s fine distinctions between what is and is not amateurism come across as technicalities with no meaning, rather than an effort to uphold some glorious principle. Nonetheless, De La Haye and his vlog have become casualties of the logical quagmire.

Random Observations Unleashed

  1. In the hours since the NCAA suspended him, De La Haye has taken to his vlog to address the situation.
  2. De La Haye is a rising junior. To this point, he has played mostly as a “kickoff specialist.” In 2016, he appeared in all 13 games, kicking off 73 times. He tallied one extra point.
  3. The vlog itself is lighthearted and goofy. There are no huge laughs, but enough small ones. Check out GIRLFRIEND CHEATS WITH BESTFRIEND [sic](PRANK) HE ALMOST STABBED US and I GOT MY BROTHER ROCKS AND PINECONES [sic] FOR CHRISTMAS.
  4. It is not clear how the NCAA would have defined an “athletically-related” video. In this instance, that could have been important as De La Haye has several posts that fall into a gray area. These posts relate to football or athleticism, but not necessarily the NCAA or UCF. For example, De La Haye produced a video titled “WIDE RECEIVERS BE LIKE…” This featured De La Haye and a friend going through their daily routines as if they were wide receivers. So in one scene, De La Haye walks down a sidewalk tapping both feet before each sidewalk crack, simulating a receiver trying to get both feet in bounds, or in another, he and his friend run pass routes through a grocery store. This video is athletically-related in the colloquial sense, but does not involve De La Haye using his reputation as a UCF or NCAA student-athlete to promote his business. Nor is De La Haye profiting directly from his athletic skill (which is kicking, not catching passes). So would it fit under an “athletically-related” prohibition?