Antoinette “Toni” Harris, a 22-year old Black woman, is the first woman ever to attend college on a full football scholarship. She has overcome challenges brought about by her gender, build, what other people say, and even a fatal illness she was diagnosed with. In fact, she dreams of being the first woman to play in the NFL.
Harris, who was born and raised in Detroit, has always been a football fan since she was 4-years old. Even though she also liked cheerleading and track-and-field, she really enjoys football the most.
She started just watching her cousins play until she herself played football during grade school. Eventually, she entered the high school football team but with teammates who “weren’t really accepting,” it wasn’t easy at first.
“It took them some time to warm up to me,” Harris said in an interview with Blavity. “But once they did, they were loving, they were supportive — and eventually everybody else got on board.”
Harris, who was proclaimed the homecoming queen on her senior year, still had doubts with herself. Being younger and a lot smaller than male players didn’t stop her though. She realized she just has to learn to live with it.
“At the end of the day, I told myself, ‘I cannot allow myself to live in fear.’ You don’t really live if you live in fear,” she said.
Her bravery has been ultimately tested when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 18. She lost half of her body weight and she went through remission later that year.
She continued with her dreams despite people telling her she couldn’t move from high school football to college. While enrolled at Golden West College, she entered East Los Angeles College to be able to play free safety with the community college team.
After two years in college football, she has received dozens of scholarship offers to play. Most recently, she marked history as the first woman to sign a letter of intent for a four-year college football scholarship. She accepted the scholarship with Central Methodist University to continue her studies and play football in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
Moreover, Harris has also caught the attention of giant companies. In January, a Toyota advertisement featuring her with a RAV4 Hybrid was premiered in their Super Bowl commercial.
After college, Harris dreams of playing for her favorite team, the Seattle Seahawks, or “any other team in the NFL — as long as I got my chance,” she said. Additionally, she also plans on becoming a “homicide detective with a background in forensics.”