It’s clear that football is evolving, but now it’s time to look at things from a different angle. Yes the sport is becoming more inclusive for females, but what about the negative aspects due to women breaking the gender barriers of this game?
Toni Harris, a Detroit native and a Safety at East Los Angeles College is the JUCO product we’ve heard about wanting to be the first female NFL player. So far she’s headed down the right path to get her to her goal; successful academic achievement, being the second woman to receive full-ride scholarship offers from NAIA schools such as Bethany and from Adams State, and many more colleges to officially play football.
But along with her accomplishments comes a lot of backlash.
“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 & that I wasn’t strong, fast, or big as the guys,” says Harris.
“I’ve even had death threats from people to make me quit.”
But these aren’t Toni’s first experiences of harassment. When Toni was a little girl, her love for football came to life when watching her cousins play football.
With a growing desire to play like her cousins, Toni began participating in youth football. Unfortunately, she was soon forced to leave the team because she was a girl.
Since the time she started dreaming of playing football people have been prejudice, giving her lip and side eyes. But, the question is how was she able to deal with it for all these years?
“It can be discouraging at times but I just use it as motivation to keep going everyday,” says Harris.
“I feel like those people are only one minded, they don’t believe in the impossible & the impossible happens everyday.”
Speaking of “the impossible,” women participating in, picking up on any activities or hobbies that are thought to only be for men— like football are usually thought of as impossible. Toni Harris believes contrary to those statements.
“Back in the day, it was not accepted that women played football and women barely did it because men sought us out to be housewives and in a kitchen but now people are beginning to accept it a lot more.”
Based on Toni’s words, some people still use this way of thinking and try to force these outdated norms onto society. However, it’s hard to have a fixed view when the vast majority of society and it’s way of thinking is continuously evolving. More women are playing and now more people are starting to accept it.
“I do believe the sport is evolving now that more woman are interacting because now these ladies are not afraid to show their talent & take it to the extreme,” says Harris.
“We are further in history than ever before.”
Now Toni is becoming a part of history from making changes in society as far a gender roles and athletics.
“Some advice I would give women who aspire to break barriers would be to follow your dreams, keep your faith & stay ten toes down,” says Harris.
“Take the criticism & use it to be great. The sky is not the limit when there are footprints are the moon!”
As Toni gets closer to her NFL dreams, she says doesn’t mind being a part of any NFL team as long as her dream is sought out and accomplished.
“But if I had to choose it would be either The Jags, The Seahawks-my favorite team or the Lions because that’s my hometown.”
In order to even be considered for the league, Toni knows she has to give up some of the luxuries of being a young college student-athlete, including partying and hanging out with friends.
“I don’t want those things to steer me away from my dream,” says Harris.
“I know I have to be 10x more tuned in than the average player. I have to sacrifice. “
Outside of football, Toni is a frequent church goer and tutor. Since her JUCO career she has won The Student Athlete Academic All-star, Scholastic Athlete, and “The Game Changer” Awards. This summer she will be attending the sports banquet where she will possibly be awarded many other accolades.
Toni has yet to commit to either Bethany College or Adams State due to other colleges that have interest. Stay tuned for more about Toni in the future as she transitions from JUCO football.