Toni Harris Became The First Woman To Be Awarded A College Football Scholarship

Football has always been a male-dominated sport at almost every level, but Antoinette “Toni” Harris, a college football player in Los Angeles, has broken a major barrier this week and became the first woman ever to receive a non-kicker football scholarship.

Harris signed a letter of intent on Tuesday to play for Central Methodist University, a Division I school in Missouri. She is a free safety, which is considered to be an incredibly skilled and tough position, NBC Los Angeles reports. This is the second college football scholarship awarded to a woman. Kicker Becca Longo became the first in 2017 when she signed to play for Adams State University. According to ESPN, about a dozen women have played college football, but none have actually received a scholarship before Longo. 

“For them to believe in me and give me the chance, it’s an honor,” Harris said when signing her letter of intent, according to HuffPost

Harris has been killing it on the field for two years at East Los Angeles Community College, which is what got her notice by six schools to play football on scholarship. When Harris was young, she had been kicked off multiple teams from little league to middle school. But she had never given up. 

“My biggest pet peeve is people telling me that I can’t,” Harris said in an interview with NBC News. “So I have to prove them wrong.” 

What make Harris’s journey even more amazing and impressive is the fact that she is also an ovarian cancer survivor, having been diagnosed at 18. According to The Hill, it caused Harris to lose almost half of her body weight. Harris said she persevered through the difficult time with the help of her family, her friends and her faith. “I did want to give up,” she says. “I thought things were over.” 

The 22-year-old also faced discrimination, harassment and even death threats for playing football.

“I have faced discrimination issues involving my gender, coaches telling me I’m not a college football player, no one would recruit me because I was a female and that I wasn’t strong, fast, or big as the guys.” Harris told Derekak.com, an entertainment and sports website. “I’ve even had death threats from people to make me quit.” 

After CMU, Harris hopes to go pro in the NFL. “If it doesn’t happen, I can just pave the way for another little girl to come out and play—or even start a women’s NFL,” Harris told NBC Los Angeles.