So the Toronto Argonauts have signed a YouTube star named Donald De La Haye – better known as Deestroying – ostensibly to compete for their kicking job. The obvious question: is this about his kicking chops or does it have to do with the exposure for the CFL and the Argos that comes with Deestroying’s 1.4 million subscribers?
Some quick background on Deestroying for those of you not up to speed on YouTube culture (and that’s most of the CFL fan base, given its demographics.)
De La Haye started making gamer videos, switched to producing football content and then had his scholarship at the University of Central Florida revoked by the NCAA due to their asinine rules around student-athletes not making money. He sued them and that case is still ongoing.
De La Haye kept going with the football thing and his videos spend some time chronicling his workouts and effort to make it in pro football. He’s also produced content in partnership with the NFL and the CFL and that led to a video in which the league flew him to Regina to attend a Riders game in Oct. 2017 (a piece of content that also lives on the CFL’s YouTube page.)
De La Haye then tried out for the Argos in Florida in April and… why yes, he did a video on the experience.
The Argonauts then signed him and brought him to main camp to compete for the kicking job… and to produce more videos like this one.
Predictably, the CFL has trumpeted De La Haye’s presence on their website and the Toronto Star did a piece on him, contextualizing it with the importance of athletes and social media branding. According to the Star piece, the Argos are insisting that De La Haye’s social media following wasn’t a factor in their evaluation of him as a player. That seems… unlikely.
De La Haye played in 22 games over two seasons at UCF, registering one extra point. The Argos press release on his signing says he was “used primarily as a kickoff specialist… and impressed in all areas of the kicking game” at his try out. He kicked off 106 times at UCF for a 61.1 yard average.
For context, Boris Bede led the CFL with a 74 yard average last season and the CFL average was 64.1 yards.
Generally speaking, American kickers in the CFL are required to perform all three jobs – think Justin Medlock – largely because they take up one of the four valuable designated import spots. There have been some exceptions (notably Ottawa, who used an American punter last season) but not many.
So the Argos have brought in a guy who probably has to do all three jobs and doesn’t have any notable experience in two of them (and probably the most important two.) Add in the league’s constant push to attract younger fans and Toronto GM Jim Popp’s history of bringing in high profile former NFLers (Michael Sam, Josh Freeman, Ahman Green, Lawrence Phillips) and the whole thing feels like it’s contrived to attract YouTube viewers as its primary goal.
Which is perfectly fine! Deestroying’s first video from Argos camp already has over a million views and has been trending in YouTube’s Top 20: that’s good for the CFL and for Deestroying. Of course, using a roster spot for marketing purposes is a slippery-ish slope and it does mean the Argos aren’t using it on someone who has a better shot of making their team.
And there’s always the chance that the kid is a legit football talent who just needs an opportunity to showcase his stuff. Lord knows the CFL is full of inspirational stories from guys who came to tryout camps and became legitimate stars.
If Deestroying can pull that off, it’s the stuff movies are made of. Or YouTube videos.