A large percentile of Americans watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. According to a “Huffington Post” survey, 26% of Americans under 30 fit under this category, a group that is two percent larger than the group who watches the game for the football. Although this year’s lineup of advertisements was almost as disappointing as the game, Toyota’s Rav4 brought us sixty seconds of Toni Harris, who seeks to be the first woman to play for the NFL.
At six years old, Harris decided to stop watching her cousins play football and start playing herself. As she grew up, she played wide receiver and cornerback for her high school. Since then, she has become the first woman to play a skill position on a college team. Women like Shelly Osbourne, Becca Longo and Katie Hnida played football in college before Harris. No woman, however, has played a position other than kicker in the history of collegiate football. Harris received four scholarship offers during her sophomore year at East Los Angeles College and became the first woman to be offered a scholarship for a non-specialist position. Despite being allowed to switch immediately, she decided to finish her season at ELAC before moving to Bethany College, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) school in Kansas, where she will play as the free safety.
Although NAIA schools cannot offer a full athletic scholarship, Harris qualified for academic aid after steadily making honor rolls at ELAC. Even though Harris works incredibly hard to play football, she plans to pursue academic success as well. She studies criminal justice and refuses to let football inhibit her studies.
Six-year-old Harris didn’t choose an easy path. When she started football, she barely knew what she was getting into. Players laughed at her; coaches told her she would never make it. Girls aren’t supposed to play football, especially not with boys. Despite her natural self-assurance, Harris had to learn to develop a tough mentality.
“I’ve been told I won’t go far, I have no talent and I’ll never make it to the NFL,” she says, “A lot of coaches didn’t believe in me. A coach told me ‘Nobody’s ever going to play you at the next level.’ In the end, you’ve got to push yourself.”
Harris pushes herself harder than anyone else. As a woman, she has to make a stronger impression than the rest of the players. People often doubt a woman’s ability to play football because there haven’t been many female professionals players. Being a pioneer in her field, she is constructing an image for women everywhere, especially those who choose to follow her path.
Harris’s drive for self-improvement and her love for the game should be an inspiration to all athletes, gender aside. However, to female athletes and girls everywhere, she offers much more. She is lighting the way for a new generation of female athletes. Her determination to succeed despite all the obstacles that have been thrown at her is astounding, and she truly is a force to be reckoned with.