YouTuber chooses profitable online career over football aspirations (video)

When the NCAA forced kicker Donald De La Haye to choose between playing college football and making videos for his YouTube channel, De La Haye picked YouTube.

“Honestly, the best advice anyone gave me was [to] make the choice with your heart, and decide based on what you wanted to do,” De La Haye said. “That turned out to be making content that people enjoy.”

His YouTube channel is already taking off, boasting more than 197,000 subscribers and 9.65 million views. And as an added bonus, De La Haye’s channel was noticed by Whistle Sports, which signed him onto their network of creators in August. With more than 375 million followers across social media, Whistle has raised roughly $80.5 million in funding from sports greats Peyton Manning and Derek Jeter, as well as Tengelmann Ventures, NBC Sports Ventures, Emil Capital Partners, and Sky.

“We want to take his really unique point of view and sports and bring it to the forefront, and give him a chance to express himself 24-7 and be the voice of the next generation of sports fans,” said Whistle Sports co-founder and chief marketing officer Jeff Urban.

When he was a young teen, De La Haye was inspired to make YouTube videos about video games he was playing. Years later, he outgrew that passion and his focus turned towards producing sports-related content for his channel, Deestroying. His football career was taking shape at the same time until he eventually earned a full scholarship to the University of Central Florida to be a kickoff specialist.

While his YouTube channel was taking off, enabling the college junior to earn a “substantial amount” from straight advertising revenue despite having no sponsorship deals, the marketing major was noticed by the NCAA in June. However, the sports organization doesn’t allow students to earn money using their athletic skills.

UCF tried to lobby for him, but the NCAA only granted a waiver allowing De La Haye to post athletic-related videos on a non-monetized channel or make money off of videos that didn’t use his sports image and likeness. The NCAA said making ad revenue off YouTube is not a violation of the rule, as long as it was not based on the “reputation, prestige or ability” of a student. Such a stipulation has caused controversy in the past, with opponents arguing since the NCAA makes money off the athletes, they should be allowed to personally make money on their image.

“Although Donald De La Haye has chosen not to compete any longer as a UCF student-athlete, he could have continued playing football for the university and earn money from non-athletic YouTube videos, based on a waiver the NCAA granted July 14,” the NCAA told CNBC in a statement. “De La Haye decided he did not want to separate his athletically-related videos from non-athletic ones he could monetize, which was outlined in the waiver for him to maintain eligibility.”

Considering this request to unfairly force him to ditch his existing channel and have to start from scratch, De La Haye decided to instead focus on his YouTube career after speaking with friends and family.

Now that he’s free of NCAA restrictions, De La Haye will be working with other Whistle Sports creators, including on an upcoming social media ad campaign for a major fast food brand, as well as doing some videos for the Canadian Football League.

“I don’t necessarily agree with the rules… I would hate for other student athletes to go through what I had to do,” he said. “But I’m just focused on what I have to focus on, my own camera and creating content with Whistle.”

He believes that if he continues to work hard, he can eventually enjoy both a YouTube and a professional football career.

“I left college sports, but that doesn’t mean my whole sports career is shattered,” De La Haye said. “I’m always going to work towards that (being in the NFL) and keep working. And hopefully, I’ll make it there one day.”

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