Antoinette “Toni” Harris has never been a big fan of assumptions. And for good reason. The star of Toyota’s Super Bowl commercial advertising its new RAV4 Hybrid — which is also not a fan of assumptions — has overcome what’s been said about her time and again.
Harris is a 5-foot-6, 135-pound free safety for East Los Angeles College. The things Toyota put in its commercial? All true. She has fought to play at every level of the sport and continues to battle for an NFL dream.
Harris is the first female football player to receive a scholarship offer at a skilled position. She is only the latest woman to knock down a milestone moment. Katie Hnida was the first to play at the FBS level in 2002. Becca Longo was the first to sign with a Division II school, doing so in 2017 with Adams State as a kicker.
Harris has scholarship offers coming out of JUCO
Harris finished her sophomore season last autumn at the community college. ELAC head coach Bobby Godinez proudly shared news pieces about his player’s commercial and in 2017 told CBS Los Angeles she earned her spot.
“When she first approached me … naturally I was a little nervous … I didn’t want anybody getting hurt,” Godinez said. “She’s earned everybody’s respect … her resilience, her perseverance, everything that she kind of encompasses, kinda bled through into everybody, after that we said we gotta get her on the field.”
In January 2018 she made headlines when she received a scholarship offer from Bethany College, an NAIA school in Kansas. She decided to stay her last year at ELAC and now has a total four offers including ones from Adams State University in Colorado, Graceland University in Iowa and Kentucky Christian University.
“I’m waiting until after the Super Bowl when everything dies down a little bit and then I’ll make my decision,” Harris told Amy Campbell on Friday’s SI Now Live.
She has an associate degree in social science and behavioral development with an emphasis in criminal justice.
Her sights are set on the NFL
Harris wants to be the first female player in the NFL, no matter the route that requires. And if she doesn’t get there, she’ll at least know her efforts were worthwhile.
“There isn’t a path but I want to make sure I’m paving a way for myself to get there,” Harris said on SI Now Live. “And if I can’t get there, I want to make sure the next little girl can get there. I want to open up some type of doors for women to do it.
“It does not say ‘Men’s National Football League.’ It just says ‘National Football League.’ There’s no rules that women can not be there, there’s just no woman who’s tried to get there. But I want to be that woman who’s the first NFL player.”
She’s faced early obstacles
Harris was placed in foster care at 4 years old and adopted at 13. She spent her youth as an all-star cheerleader and an AAU track and field star, she said.
Harris told Amy Campbell on Friday’s SI Now Live that her interest in playing football piqued when she watched her cousin play.
“I always wanted to play football, but nobody would give me the chance,” said Harris, who graduated from Redford Union High School in Detroit in 2014. “I had been kicked off teams in little league. But once I learned to make my own decisions, I was like, ‘I’ll handle it myself and I’ll protect my dream at any cost.'”
In various interviews over the years, she said because of her sex she was left off of youth teams, had to get the superintendent involved when she wanted to play in high school and was always convincing coaches.
She faced her biggest obstacle at 18 years old when she was diagnosed with stage 1 ovarian cancer. She underwent chemotherapy, which she told CBS Los Angeles resulted in lost weight and muscle mass, and went into remission in summer 2015. But she doesn’t want that to define her story or even give a background to what she has accomplished as a football player.
Just football player, please
The entire premise of the commercial is to defy expectations. For Toyota, that’s breaking out of what an SUV should be. For Toni, that’s getting past what society expects of girls and women.
People say women can’t play because of this, that and the other. Harris wants to be the one that shows they can play and do it well. And while she likes changing the perception of what girls do, she said it’s about being a football player. Drop the female.
“Once I step on that field, although I am a female, yes, I want to be treated accordingly as a football player along with the rest of my teammates,” she told SI Now Live.
It’s her vision, not anyone else’s
There are plenty watching Toyota’s commercial with certain thoughts, which they will share in comments sections and Facebook diatribes.
It will not deter Harris, who described her message for herself and others to former NFL star Michael Strahan on Good Morning America.
— Good Morning America (@GMA) January 30, 2019
“At the end of the day no one’s opinions matter about your dreams … you shouldn’t have to fight to have people understand your vision. It’s your vision. It’s not for them to understand. It’s something that God gave you for you to go excel at.
And that’s why I’d speak to them to let them know nobody’s going to decide where I’m going to go in life. That’s my decision.”
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