“They said she’d never get to the next level. Never inspire a new generation.” But she likes proving people wrong.
Antoinette ‘Toni’ Harris wants to become the first woman to play in the NFL. Her goal is closer to becoming a reality as she is now the first woman ever to accept a full football college scholarship, for a non-kicker position. Toni is a role model for the new generation and on the path to becoming everything they said she could not be.
Here are 5 things to know about the 22-year-old about to turn the sports world upside down.
1. Antoinette ‘Toni’ Harris is the first woman ever to play a non-kicker position on a collegiate football team.
Detroit local, Harris, moved from Detroit to Los Angeles with only $550 in her pocket to follow her passion for football. In the past, women playing college football took on the role of kickers. At East Los Angeles Community College, she was allowed to play safety position for the school’s team- making her the first woman safety player in the nation for collegiate football. Not only is she a fierce player, but Harris is also an honor student at ELACC. She refuses to place a limit on her success as she studies for her degree in social science and focus of criminal justice.
2. She’s the first woman to receive a full scholarship at an NAIA school.
It’s one thing to receive a full football college scholarship- but Harris received four offers. Bethany College, Adams State University, Graceland University, and Kentucky Christian University all extended offers to the young rising star. Ultimately, she chose Bethany College, an NAIA school in Kansas, to continue to pursue her football dreams. NAIA schools rarely offer full rides to students, but Harris had fulfilled all the academic and financial requirements for the program and will be starting in the Spring of 2019. This could be her starting point to play in the NFL. Harris also marks history as the first woman ever to receive an NAIA scholarship.
3. She overcame stage one Ovarian Cancer at 18 years old.
Harris has come a long way personally as well. Her persistence through these struggles is admirable. She entered the foster system at four years old and was adopted at nine years old. Detroit local, Harris, had to leave for Los Angeles because her current school did not offer football for her to play in. She had to put her football passion on pause due to her discovery of her stage one ovarian cancer. However, soon after treatment, she was back on the field, stronger than ever. Harris’ grind is inspirational, one can only wonder how she didn’t get discouraged in the face of struggle. Harris says via ESPN that, “A coach told me nobody’s ever going to pay you to be at the next level. In the end, you’ve got to push yourself. I’m going to focus on my goals.”
4. She fought gender restrictions on her dream as a child.
Like most women following their dreams, adults often discouraged her. Harris shares that she was kicked off her school’s football team due to her gender. Instead of letting this setback change her dream, she focused on the sports she was allowed to play such as gymnastics. She was finally given the opportunity to compete at Redford Union High School in Michigan as a wide receiver and cornerback. However, even there she was criticized for playing football. Harris shares that she was Homecoming Queen and enjoys dressing up. People used this to reinforce gender roles on her mentioning that she should pursue something more “feminine.” In addition to that, Harris is listed as 5’6, which falls below the average safety position player. However, Harris kept going saying via GMA, “At the end of the day no one else’s opinions matter about your dreams.”
5. She is featured on Toyota’s Super Bowl commercial and is on the path to playing as the first woman NFL player.
Harris’ hard work is being recognized in the media as she is the feature for Toyota’s Super Bowl commercial. The commercial is just as empowering as Harris is. She continues to break barriers, and the commercial highlights all of this. She is seen running fast on a track and pushing tires with a voice over saying “they say she was slow, weak.” Harris only speaks eight words in the commercial, but leaves a feeling of empowerment for women nationwide: “I’ve never been a big fan of assumptions.” Antoinette Harris has always said she dreams of playing in the football one day, and she gets closer to this goal every day.