Harris, according to theundefeated.com, came to notable attention when on February 3, during Super Bowl LIII, a Toyota commercial of RAV4 Hybrid debuted, featuring her and her quest to play football. Tens of millions of viewers saw Harris running, training, lifting weights and driving a Toyota.
Narrator Jim Nantz thunders: “They’ve said a lot of things about Toni Harris”. “They said she was too small. They said she was too slow. Too weak. They said she’d never get to the next level. Never inspire a new generation. Never get a football scholarship. Yeah, people have made a lot of assumptions about Toni.”
Harris then looks into the camera and delivers the closing line; “I’ve never been a big fan of assumptions.”
Since then, folks have wondered how a girl came to be a football player. But Toni’s difficult past made her passion for the sport even more resolute.
It emerged that Harris was put in foster care at the age of 4, ending up in three different homes by the age of 15 on Detroit’s West Side.
Harris had also not met her biological father, Sam Clora till a few years ago. Even though he is now a part of her life, including her nine biological siblings (five sisters and four brothers), her birth mother, Donyale Harris, with whom she always maintained a relationship, died in a car accident this past spring.
These incidents perhaps showed that misfortune loved lurking around her but the determined and strong-willed damsel did not succumb.
Toni Harris is the first woman to get a 4-year football scholarship. Pic credit: Sports Illustrated
At age 5, Harris got hooked with the game of football upon seeing her older cousin Demetrius and the Westside Steelers win the national Police Athletic League (PAL) championship.
As Harris remembers it, what she saw on the field that day was a happy, teary-eyed family. “After that, I kind of fell in love with the game of football and never put the ball down.”
Harris, a free safety, signed with Central Methodist University, a school with 1,000 undergraduates that plays in Division I of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).
She arrived on campus three weeks ahead of camp to get extra time with the strength and conditioning coach. And, like everyone else on the team, she is hoping to see some playing time when the season starts on August 31 against Clarke University.
Already, women seeking to play the sport ask her what to do.
“There have been so many women — I can’t even count, like over probably 100 or 200 — that contact me every day, whether in middle school, high school or getting ready to go to college, that want to play [football] at the next level,” she says.