First female to receive full-ride football scholarship breaks barriers, gender norms

Toni Harris has always had to overcome barriers in her path, of which there have been many. As an undersized female constantly being dissuaded to continue playing football, she has faced adversity in its various forms. Earlier this month, Harris became the first woman to sign a letter of intent to attend college on a full football scholarship.

When Harris featured in Toyota’s Super Bowl Ad last month, her story was thrust into the limelight as viewers were forced to listen. In the commercial, a montage of Harris training and interacting with her male counterparts is narrated over.

“They said she’d never get to the next level. Never inspire a new generation. Never get a football scholarship.”

Within weeks, Harris was inundated with scholarship offers. Eventually, last week, the 22-year-old defensive back opted for Central Methodist University – creating history in the process and potentially paving the way for girls like her to follow in the future.

“Yeah, people have made a lot of assumptions about Toni—but I’ve never been a big fan of assumptions,” Harris saidstates defiantly.

Her headstrong attitude has pushed her towards this achievement, but it’s not just the gender barrier she has hurdled with bravery and fortitude. Harris remembered a specific instance in which a coach told her that she would “never get to the next level” as she “was a lot smaller and not as fast as the other guys.”

As a girl in a male-dominated environment, Harris didn’t let the odds ruin her unwavering determination to succeed. In fact, she used it to define her. Standing at 5-foot-7-inches tall and weighing a mere 166 pounds, the odds were stacked against her, even in high school.

In 2017, age 18, Harris was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. For your average athlete, this would cruelly end their career. But Harris isn’t your average athlete. She went into remission later that year and never gave up.

Having achieved a football scholarship, Harris has overcome the gender norms associated with football, along with an obvious disadvantage due to her height, an ovarian cancer diagnosis and the persistent assertions that she wouldn’t make it.

She now hopes to inspire a new generation of girls, and her aspirations are not limited to college. Harris wants to become the first female NFL player, and in her own words, “the sky is not the limit when there are footprints on the moon.”

After the news broke that she had made her decision, Harris told CNN that she wants girls to “never stop pushing” in pursuit of their dreams, whether they are athletic or not. She serves as a fine example of the fighting mentality needed to succeed and a symbol of female empowerment.

Harris is inspiring a generation of girls to believe in themselves and to not be thwarted by what they are told they “shouldn’t” or “can’t” do. This is not the end of Harris’ story. With this opportunity, she has proved that the sky is not the limit for her or any girls like her with a dream. Harris’ message is clear: if you believe it, you can do it.