The University of Central Florida (UCF) removed a college football player from its team and pulled his athletics scholarship because he exercised his constitutional right to free speech by posting videos to his social media accounts. The Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Goldwater Institute are now stepping in on the student’s behalf to defend his First Amendment rights.

Like most American college students, Donald De La Haye, a kicker for the UCF football team, is an active social media user. He has been making YouTube videos for several years on a range of topics, from pop culture to life as a college student. Because of his entertaining posts, his videos have received a high number of views — to date, De La Haye has nearly 350,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel. Because his channel garnered so many followers, YouTube offered to monetize the channel through ad revenue, and De La Haye received modest payments for several of his videos.

But the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has a rule that prohibits student-athletes from profiting from operating businesses or otherwise making money from the use of their name, image, or athletic talents. Because De La Haye has made money from some of his YouTube videos, UCF summarily removed him from its football team and rescinded his full athletic scholarship, which he had relied on as the sole means of financing his education. Although he wishes to continue his college education, De La Haye had to dis-enroll from the university.

Today, TPPF and the Goldwater Institute sent a letter to UCF asking the university to reinstate De La Haye as a member of the football team and restore his university scholarship. “UCF kicked Donald off its football team and effectively out of college because he posted videos to his social media accounts. These posts were not only harmless, but enjoyed by tens of thousands of friends and followers. Donald’s college career was upended for engaging in speech protected by the First Amendment,” Goldwater Institute Director of National Litigation Jon Riches said.

Students like De La Haye don’t give up their free speech right when they join a college athletic program. According to the NCAA, there are more than 460,000 student-athletes competing in more than 24 sports. There’s no telling how many of those students are being denied the right to speak freely for fear of punishment or reprisal and who could easily find themselves in De La Haye’s predicament.

“Making YouTube videos is something I’m really passionate about, and I’m sad that this passion is keeping me from continuing my college career,” De La Haye said. “I’m committed to making videos that motivate and inspire others, and I hope to be able to continue pursuing my degree soon.”

Universities should encourage students to be entrepreneurial, not punish them for using their skills and talents to start a business. “Public universities profit billions of dollars off the labor of student-athletes. Then they tell those athletes they can’t support themselves with a business that uses their own name or athletic talents,” Riches said. “Imagine the same things that happened to Donald happening to any other college student. Journalism majors take writing and reporting jobs outside of school all the time, utilizing their personal skills, in order to earn extra money. Student-athletes shouldn’t be denied the same ability. But if UCF’s actions are allowed to stand, Donald and students like him are being denied not only freedom of speech, but also a potential stepping stone to their future.”

“Freedom of expression is one of our fundamental rights guaranteed through the United States Constitution,” TPPF Center for the American Future Director Robert Henneke said. “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.”

For more information about De La Haye’s story, visit http://goldwaterinstitute.org/free-de-la-haye/.

For more information or to request an interview with Mr. Henneke, please contact Alicia Pierce at apierce@texaspolicy.com or 512-472-2700.    

The Honorable Robert Henneke is general counsel and director of the Center for the American Future at Texas Public Policy Foundation.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation is a non-profit free-market research institute based in Austin. The Texas Public Policy Foundation aims to advance a societal framework that effectively fosters human flourishing based upon cooperation and mutually beneficial exchange of ideas and speech.

Primary website: www.TexasPolicy.com
Facebook page: www.Facebook.com/TexasPublicPolicyFoundation
Twitter feed: www.Twitter.com/TPPF