alex wennberg (l) seattle kraken jersey (c) kierra lewis (r)

Seattle Kraken/YouTube @seattlekraken/TikTok @kierralewis75/TikTok

What you need to know about the BookTok hockey drama taking over the internet

Involving BookTok, an NHL team, and people’s comments about one player in particular.

 

Michelle Jaworski

Internet Culture

The intersection between BookTok, ice hockey fandom, the boundary between a professional athlete’s public and private life, fandom’s fourth wall, and how social media brands engage with it came to a head over the past few days after the wife of NHL player Alex Wennberg asked fans to stop sexually harassing her husband on social media.

Seattle Kraken and its connections to BookTok

Founded in 2021, the Seattle Kraken is a relatively new NHL team that, unlike teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Washington Capitals, doesn’t have decades of history—the Stanley Cup wins, gut-wrenching losses, the high-stakes drama—to fuel the foundation of its fanbase, although an unexpected playoff run in its second season (which ended in May) helped get the team more widespread attention.

Over the past several months, Kraken center Alex Wennberg became the latest obsession for BookTok as people posted thirst videos of him and face claimed him as a character in hockey romances (which are especially popular on BookTok). Noticing an audience for it after videos featuring Wennberg went viral, the Kraken’s official social media channels leaned into it. For example, one video posted by the Kraken, which has since been deleted, featured Wennberg in a suit walking in slow-motion with the caption, “When you accidentally become a booktok account & now that’s all you can post.”

How the BookTok hockey drama started

But late last week, Wennberg’s wife, Felicia Wennberg, took to Instagram to ask fans to stop sexually harassing her husband on social media. In several photos posted to Instagram Stories, which include screenshots of sexualized comments directed toward Wennberg, Felicia Wennberg noted that she initially didn’t mind seeing fans thirst over her husband (and didn’t fault the fans who’ve tried to slide into her husband’s dms to shoot their shot). And while she even engaged with it at times, it had crossed a line.

“What doesn’t sit with me is when your desires come with sexual harassment, inappropriate comments and the fact that with the internet we can normalize behavior that would never be ok if we flipped the genders around to a guy doing this to a female athlete,” she wrote. “…I mean no hate on the booktook [sic] community just a little request for people to think twice about their comments/videos or chanting ‘krak my back’ at humans with feelings.”

She also drew attention to double standards in how people view and treat sexual harassment in that for some, sexually harassing women isn’t OK, but it is for them if it’s about a group like male hockey players.

Felicia Wennberg didn’t mention any BookTokers by name in her statement, but her screenshot included a covered comment from Kierra Lewis, a BookToker with over 1.1 million followers; her videos caught the notice of the Kraken months ago, which gifted her a customized jersey with “BookTok” on the back. A since-deleted video of Lewis’ in which she throws out several sexual innuendos about Wennberg included her asking what she had to “to have [Wennberg] crack this back.”

Alex Wennberg’s response to fan comments

A day later, Wennberg released a statement of his own on Instagram Stories that not only backed up his wife’s sentiment but also criticized the people who “post vile comments on my wife’s instagram and on photos of our child.”

“I’m all for the booktok community to write books and fiction about hockey but the aggressive language about real life players is too much,” he wrote. “It has turned into daily and weekly comments on our personal social media. This is not something we support or want our child to grow up with. All we ask is for a little respect and common sense regarding moving forward.”

Lewis responded to the initial post in several TikToks and a longer written statement posted in the Notes app in which she called out both Felicia Wennberg and the Kraken organization (but especially its social media team).

In one video, Lewis noted that she sent an apology to Felicia Wennberg—who, according to screenshots Lewis featured, has not read the message—on Instagram and offered to take down any videos that mentioned Wennberg without a response.

@kierralewis75 #greenscreen #seattlekraken #booktok ♬ original sound – Kierra Lewis

How BookTok responded to the Wennbergs’ statements

Lewis described Felicia Wennberg featuring her name in the Instagram Stories screenshot and calling her a sexual harasser as slander and criticized her for not getting the joke that the phrase “Krack My Back” was a riff on the Kraken team name—and that her video wasn’t even a recent one; it was from four months ago. She says she’s now being harassed because of that post and is being singled out “when there were hundreds maybe even thousands of videos on Tik tok about him.” She also thought it was suspect that out of every BookToker making videos about Wennberg, Felicia Wennberg singled out a Black woman in her post.

She also accused the Seattle Kraken of using her and the rest of BookTok for clout after her videos went viral. She says the team engaged with her, including flying her out to Seattle and gifting her the custom BookTok jersey, and even encouraged it, but after the Wennbergs’ statement, the Kraken unfollowed her and deleted all of its Alex Wennberg videos.

“The Seattle Kraken not only took interest to my videos from the beginning that mention Alex Wennberg but even encouraged me to keep posting as well as them beginning to post their own ‘thirst trap of Wennberg,” Lewis wrote. “it even got to the point people were calling it an Alex Wennberg fan page. As well, as them (now removed) changing their bio to ‘Mostly Booktok.’”

The fallout from Felicia Wennberg’s request and Lewis’ response played out on social media for several days. Lewis’ defenders are taking their ire on Felicia Wennberg’s Instagram account (including posts about her children) and the Kraken’s social media accounts. But others are criticizing Lewis for her response. They’ve brought up some of Lewis’ older comments and videos, which include footage of her appearing to catcall players at a Kraken game, and argued that even if Felicia Wennberg was supportive and made some of those comments months ago, she is allowed to change her mind. People even mocked the idea thrown out that Lewis is directly responsible for hockey’s current popularity.

In a follow-up post, Felicia Wennberg denied that she was trying to single out Lewis for her video and asked people not to harass her. But it’s an encapsulation of the kind of sexual harassment her husband receives, and it doesn’t matter if the video was made four months ago; it’s still a big presence in their lives.

“I understand that people are confused by the timing of my statement but while the creator is hung up on it being 4 months since she posted the video she and her following seems to be unable to grasp that the video continued to show up in our life on a daily basis,” she wrote. “We get sent this video and other videos of Alex on a weekly if not daily basis.”

The controversy is putting a bigger spotlight on romance hockey BookTok as the story spread beyond those corners of the internet, including with a more mainstream (and male-dominated) hockey fandom. But as people condemned the comments made by Lewis and people, it’s also easy for some people to conflate BookTok with the rest of hockey fandom.

Hockey romances and BookTok

While hockey romances are popular on BookTok, not everyone who reads them starts following hockey. Not every person who started following hockey because of hockey romance BookTok or because they found the players attractive is only there for thirsting reasons. Tagging the players isn’t emblematic of hockey fandom or many of the people writing fanfiction about players; not everyone wants the players to break the fourth wall. The Kraken social media team’s engagement with BookTok boosted their numbers, but it also shows that many of the people who run the accounts still struggle to handle fandom. And even as Wennberg’s name blows up because of this situation, most hockey players (and their spouses/significant others) are not public figures outside of the ice rink, if that; most of them aren’t household names beyond the people who follow hockey.

In Felicia Wennberg’s case, she and her husband aren’t asking people to stop it entirely, something that might be an impossible ask on the internet. She just wants it to stay among fans and not be shared with the players and their families.

“All I did was give context to a situation where we had enough and ask people to keep their desires and comments in private conversation versus online where we and other hockey families can see it,” she added.

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