A multitude of news sources are predicting that she’ll become the first female NFL player. Antoinette “Toni” Harris, a 22-year-old Detroit native, is ready to turn these predictions into reality.
When she was six years old, Toni Harris developed an interest in the sport – she would watch her cousin on the field and dream about a career in football. Unfortunately, Harris has faced challenges along the way. Because of her gender, many little leagues and middle school teams kicked her out – even a junior college didn’t allow her to play on their team.
Thankfully, Harris received the opportunity to play for Redford Union High School’s team, and because of her persistence and personality, they even crowned her homecoming queen. For the past two years, while simultaneously studying criminal justice and securing honors at East Los Angeles College, she played free safety on their football team. She didn’t complete the first part of her season in 2017 due to health reasons, but she got back on track to finish 2018 strong.
From there, she received a few offers she needed to consider, including one from Bethany College in Kansas to play within their National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) program. However, Missouri’s Central Methodist University – a Division I NAIA school – awarded Harris a full-ride scholarship; Harris committed to CMU just a few weeks ago. She’s the first female non-kicker on a college football team to receive a football scholarship for a skill position. Harris will be playing defense for the four-year university.
Additionally, doubters have always been telling Harris that she wouldn’t go far and she wouldn’t make it to the NFL—but she has never been “a big fan of assumptions.” Although numerous coaches, players, and spectators have told her that her chances of playing professionally are slim, she won’t quit. There were even women before her who played football at the collegiate level, so she’s determined to continue excelling in (and of course, out) of the classroom at a four-year university.
What makes Toni Harris’s story even more compelling is that she beat stage one ovarian cancer, another challenge that caused her health to diminish. She thought that this setback would be the end of her career, but she pushed forward. In fact, Toyota recently featured Harris in their Super Bowl commercial this past February. This opportunity, along with her scholarship, has increased her exposure. After CMU, she’s hoping her skills and the publicity earn her a spot to play safety in the NFL. If it doesn’t happen, she’d love to start a women’s NFL league.