At 21 years old, Antoinette “Toni” Harris has already made history. She’s the first woman to receive a scholarship to play a non-kicker position on a collegiate football team, thanks to an offer from Bethany College, an NAIA division school in Kansas.
If she accepts Bethany’s offer — or any offer that comes her way — ESPN reports that Harris will be the first female non-kicker to ever be on a collegiate football team’s roster via scholarship. But Harris’ goals don’t stop there: She’s got the NFL in her sights. That drive is what keeps her breaking records and making headlines, and she’s doing it on her own. Sure, there are other young women pursuing careers in professional football, like Julia Knapp, but those women are rarely non-kickers. They’re also rarely Black.
“I’m actually playing the contact part, while the kickers only have to kick. I’m the one getting down to the nitty gritty,” Harris says. “And I’m pretty sure the sport would be more accepting if I was white.”
Harris is also playing in an era where there’s more information available about the dangers of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, which is often caused by concussions obtained during contact sports. That may be why people tell her that she’s “taking this football thing too far.” They even suggest she do something more “feminine.” But for Harris, that’s just motivation: “I was always different,” she says. “I never did the same things other girls did.”
That’s how she ended up moving from Detroit to California in 2016 with just $550 in her pocket to play at Golden West Community College, since the schools near her didn’t have football opportunities. A year later, the offer from Bethany came through, confirmation that she has to trust her instinct, regardless of what other people may think. “I just have to keep going,” she says. “The sky can’t be the limit when there are footprints on the moon.”
Black Is The New Black is Refinery29’s celebration of 20 Black women who kicked down doors in their fields this past year. Black women who are reminding the world that we are not a trend or “a moment.” We’re here — and we’ve been here. Check out the full list.