Athlete as Agitator, Assaulter, and Armor

Sports, Identity, and Sexual Assault in Young Adult Literature


  • SHELBY BOEHM University of Florida



An increasing number of young adult literature features male athletes sexually assaulting female classmates. These books can be generative spaces for examining relationships between athletic identities and sexual violence. This manuscript provides an analysis of six YAL novels addressing sexual assault: Moxie (Mathieu, 2017), The Nowhere Girls (Reed, 2017), The Way I Used to Be (Smith, 2017), Some Boys (Blount, 2014), Asking For It (O’Neill, 2016), All the Rage (Summers, 2015). The authors examine athlete identities and figured worlds in the six titles and then present teaching suggestions to investigate in English classrooms athlete identities and sexual assault.

Author Biographies

SHELBY BOEHM, University of Florida

Shelby Boehm is a doctoral student at the University of Florida. Prior to entering graduate school, Shelby taught high school English. She can be reached at


Kathleen Colantonio-Yurko is an assistant professor of literacy education at SUNY Brockport. Before becoming a teacher educator, Kate taught high school English in Florida. Her research interests include young adult literature, third culture kids, and adolescent literacy. She can be reached at


Kathleen Olmstead is an Assistant Professor of Literacy at SUNY Brockport. Before becoming a teacher educator, Kathy was a longtime elementary school teacher and literacy specialist. She can be reached at


Henry "Cody" Miller is an assistant professor of English education at SUNY Brockport. Prior to that role, he taught high school English for seven years in Florida. He can be reached at



Anderson, L. H. (1999). Speak. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Blount, P. (2014). Some boys. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Fire.

Johnston, E. K. (2017). Exit, pursued by a bear. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Mathieu, J. (2017). Moxie: A novel. New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press.

O’Neill, L. (2016). Asking for it. London, UK: Quercus.

Reed, A. (2017). The nowhere girls. New York, NY: Simon Pulse.

Smith, A. (2017). The way I used to be. New York, NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Summers, C. (2015). All the rage: A novel. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Griffin.


Ahmed, S. K. (2018). Being the change: Lessons and strategies to teach social comprehension. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Alsup, J. (2003). Politicizing young adult literature: Reading Anderson’s Speak as a critical text. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 47(2), 158-166.

Alsup, J. (Ed.). (2010). Young adult literature and adolescent identity across cultures and classrooms: Contexts for the literary lives of teens. New York: Routledge. DOI:

Altrows, A. (2019). Silence and the regulation of feminist anger in young adult rape fiction. Girlhood Studies, 12(2), 1-16. DOI:

Beach, R., Johnston, A., & Thein, A. (2015). Identity-focused ELA teaching: A curriculum framework for diverse learners and contexts. New York: Routledge. DOI:

Bean, T. W., & Moni, K. (2003). Developing students’ critical literacy: Exploring identity construction in young adult fiction. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 46(8), 638-648.

Brozo, W. G. (2017). Disciplinary and content literacy for today’s adolescents: Honoring diversity and building competence. New York, NY: Guilford.

Center for Disease Control. (2014). Sexual violence surveillance: Uniform definitions and recommended data elements. Atlanta, GA: Center for Disease Control.

Christensen, L. (2017). Reading, writing, and rising up (2nd ed.). Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools.

Cleveland, E., & Durand, E. S. (2014). Critical representations of sexual assault in young adult literature. The Looking Glass: New Perspectives on Children’s Literature, 17(3).

Colantonio-Yurko, K. C., Miller, H., & Cheveallier, J. (2018). “But She Didn’t Scream”: Teaching about Sexual Assault in Young Adult Literature. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 14(1). Retrieved from

Cramer, K. M. (2016). Using YA literature to interrogate the heteronormative, transphobic culture of school sports. In A. Brown & L. Rodesiler (Eds.), Developing contemporary literacies through sports: A guide for the English classroom (pp. 180-185). Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Crosset, T. (1999). Male athletes’ violence against women: A critical assessment of the athletic affiliation, violence against women debate. Quest, 51(3), 244-257. DOI:

Delker, B. C., Salton, R., & McLean, K. C. (2020). Giving voice to silence: Empowerment and disempowerment in the developmental shift from trauma ‘victim’ to ‘survivor-advocate’. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 21(2), 242-263. DOI:

Engles, T., & Kory, F. (2013). Incarceration, identity formation, and race in young adult literature: The case of Monster versus Hole in My Life. English Journal, 102(4), 53-58.

Fine, M. (2017). Just research in contentious times: Widening the methodological imagination. New York: Teachers College Press.

Fredricksen, J. E., Thornberry, J. M., & Gritter, K. (2019). Censored young adult sports novels: Entry points for understanding issues of identities and equity. The ALAN Review, 46(2). 58-64.

Gee, J. P. (2000/2001). Identity as an analytic lens for research in education. Review of Research in Education, 25, 99-125. DOI:

Glenn, W., & King-Watkins, D. (2019). Fictional girls who play with the boys: Barriers to access in the transition to male‐dominated sports teams. Children’s Literature in Education, March, 1-23. DOI:

Hadaway, N. L., Young, T. A., & Ward, B. A. (2012). A critical analysis of language identity issues in young adult literature. The ALAN Review, 39(3), 36-47. DOI:

Heinecken, D. (2015). Pretty Tough sports and the promotion of female empowerment in young adult sports fiction. The Lion and the Unicorn, 39, 23-41. DOI:

Holland, D., Lachiocotte Jr., W., Skinner, D., & Cain, C. (1998). Identity and agency in cultural worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Jackett, M. (2007). Something to speak about: Addressing sensitive issues through literature. English Journal, 96(4), 102-105. DOI:

Kimble, N. B., Russo, S. A., Bergman, B. G., & Galindo, V. H. (2010). Revealing an empirical understanding of aggression and violent behavior in athletics. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15, 446-462. DOI:

Kriegh, L., & Kane, M. J. (1997). A novel idea: Portrayals of lesbians in young adult sports fiction. Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, 6(2), 23-62. DOI:

LaChance, N. (2016, Sep 02). Media continues to refer to Brock Turner as “Stanford swimmer” rather than a rapist. The Intercept. Retrieved from

Malo-Juvera, V. (2014). Speak: The effect of literacy instruction on adolescents’ rape myth acceptance. Research in the Teaching of English, 48(4), 407-27. DOI:

Manne, K. (2017). Down girl: The logic of misogyny. New York: Oxford University Press.

McMahon, S. (2015). Participation in high school sports and bystander intentions, efficacy to intervene, and rape myth beliefs. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 30(17), 2980–2998. DOI:

Miller, C. (2019). Know my name: A memoir. New York, NY: Penguin.

Moje, E. B., & Luke, A. (2009). Literacy and identity: Examining the metaphors in history and contemporary research. Reading Research Quarterly, 44(4), 415-437. DOI:

Moore, A. (2018). “I knew you were trouble”: Considering childism(s), shame resilience, and adult caretaker characters surrounding YA rape survivor protagonist. New Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship, 24(2), 144-166. DOI:

Needham, L. (2020, May 11). Betsy DeVos’ new campus sexual assault rules protect everyone but survivors. Rewire News. Retrieved from DOI:

Negly, C. (2020, May 07). Title IX: Coaches not required to report sexual misconduct. Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved from

North, A. (2020, May 06). Trump administration releases new campus sexual assault rules in the midst of a pandemic. Vox. Retrieved from DOI:

Park, J. Y. (2012). Re-imaging reader-response in middle and secondary schools: Early adolescent girls’ critical and communal reader responses to the young adult novel Speak. Children’s Literature in Education, 43(3), 191-212. DOI:

Pattee, A. S. (2004). Disturbing the peace: the function of young adult literature and the case of Catherine Atkins’ When Jeff Comes Home. Children’s Literature in Education, 35(3), 241-255. DOI:

Rodesiler, L. (2017a). Beyond appealing to students’ interests: Studying sports culture for critical literacy. Talking Points, 29(1), 12-19.

Rodesiler, L. (2017b). Sports-based text sets: Fostering critical literacy at the intersections of sport and society. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational, Strategies, Issues, and Ideas, 90(2), 35-40. DOI:

Scherff, L. (2012). Exploring identity(ies) in Yummy: The last days of a southside shorty. The ALAN Review, 39(3), 73-79. DOI:

Sieben, N. (2016a). Openly Straight: A look at teaching LGBTQ young adult sports literature through a queer youth theory lens. In D. Linville & D. L. Carlson (Eds.), Beyond borders: Queer eros and ethos (ethics) in LGBTQ young adult literature (pp. 199-217). New York: Peter Lang. DOI:

Sieben, N. (2016b). Rewriting for justice: Breaking down bullying in Openly Straight. In A. Brown & L. Rodesiler (Eds.), Developing contemporary literacies through sports: A guide for the English classroom (pp. 186-191). Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Taylor, E., & Hardin, R. (2017). A gap in the sport management curriculum: An analysis of sexual harassment and sexual assault education in the United States. Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sport & Tourism Education, 20, 65-75. DOI:

Thomas, E. E. (2011). Landscapes of city and self: Place and identity in urban young adult literature. ALAN Review, 38(2), 13-22. DOI:

Ulaby, N. (2016, April 1). When talking about sexual consent, YA books can be a parent’s best Friend. NPR. Retrieved from

Weir, T., & Brady, E. (2003). In sexual assault cases, athletes usually walk. USA Today. Retrieved from