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The Seattle Kraken embraced thirsty ‘BookTok’ hockey romance videos. It backfired.

NHL player Alexander Wennberg called on fans to stop sexually harassing him.
Alex Wennberg of the Seattle Kraken arrives before a game at Madison Square Garden in New York on Feb. 10, 2023.
Alex Wennberg of the Seattle Kraken arrives before a game at Madison Square Garden in New York on Feb. 10.Michael Mooney / NHLI via Getty Images file

What started as a playful thirst for hockey players on TikTok quickly devolved into what one Seattle Kraken star and his wife have blasted as inappropriate behavior.

Over the weekend, Alexander Wennberg and his wife, Felicia, took to Instagram to plead with the Kraken fanbase to stop posting sexual comments, calling it harassment. “Enough of sexual harassment, and harassment of our character and our relationship,” the hockey star wrote.

Their public request came amid a rise in social media content surrounding Wennberg and his Kraken teammates, who have become viral heartthrobs on TikTok. Hockey romances have become a popular subgenre within BookTok, a huge community of book lovers on TikTok, and in recent months many have translated their love for these books – romance stories centered around the sport – into an interest in professional hockey. 

Videos showing Kraken players doing groin stretches and walking in slow motion gained popularity, with many using a catchphrase, “Krack my back,” to sexualize them. Even the Kraken team leaned into the fervor, inviting creator Kierra Lewis, who is credited for being among the first to cultivate the crossover fandom of hockey and BookTok, to one of their games. 

Following the Wennbergs social media statements, BookTokers are debating whether they took their desire toward the NHL star too far. 

A representative for Alexander Wennberg said in an email that “there is nothing further to share at this time.” Lewis did not respond to requests for comment. 

Some on BookTok say the incident serves as a cautionary tale about how, when some readers project their book fantasies onto real people, it can dehumanize them. Other creators across TikTok are sharing videos expressing disdain that BookTok was being unfairly dragged for the actions of one subgroup in the community. Several users pointed out that the official Seattle Kraken TikTok account had seemingly played into the hype by posting now-deleted thirst traps of its players.

Alex Wennberg #21 of the Seattle Kraken greets his wife, Felicia, and son, Rio, during warmups on April 13, 2023 in Seattle.
Alex Wennberg of the Seattle Kraken greets his wife, Felicia, and son, Rio, during warmups on April 13 in Seattle.Steph Chambers / Getty Images

Dr. Jessica Maddox, an assistant professor of digital media technology at the University of Alabama who has researched BookTok, said the conflict unfolding on BookTok underscores a “disconnect.” 

“The irony is that communities of romance readers are often very attuned and aware of ideas of consent,” she said. “But we’re seeing a disconnect between how it would be understood in a book versus how it would be understood IRL, so to speak. You can change your mind at any point.”

The reaction to the Wennbergs’ posts, Maddox said, is an example of solipsism, or the theory that one’s own experience is the only important one, online. This can make it difficult for them to understand or empathize with other people who feel harmed by their behavior. 

BookTok creator Marines Alvarez, who has made several videos explaining and commenting on the situation, said the blurring of lines between fan fantasy and real people is not exclusive to BookTok and is common in parasocial relationships with celebrities. 

“For romance readers and for hockey romance lovers, there is this question that we all should sit with and interrogate of where those lines are, and where we should draw the boundaries between this content that we love and that we appreciate," she said. "And then how we’re kind of taking that out and putting that on top of real people."

At first, the Kraken leaned in to BookTok

When Lewis first started making videos sharing her love for players on the Seattle Kraken, the team took notice. The official team account left comments under Lewis’ posts and started to play into BookTok’s newfound fandom. 

When Seattle Kraken flew Lewis out to Game 4 of the Western Conference Second Round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in May, the team gifted her a custom jersey that read “BookTok” on the back.

According to Lewis and other hockey BookTok fans, the account also posted thirst traps of the Seattle Kraken players and its bio read “mostly BookTok.” The videos have since been taken down and the bio was changed to “what’s kraken.”

It’s unclear when the Seattle Kraken deleted its BookTok content. 

Representatives for the team did not respond to a request for comment.

A representative for the NHL said the league "has been in touch with both the Seattle Kraken and the Wennbergs, and has protocols in place to support and protect Players and their families.”

Brand participation in fandom is not new, but Maddox said that it can often bring disastrous results if social media teams don’t do their research.

“Anytime a corporation messes with a fan community in a way they don’t fully understand, you’re creating a scenario in which things can be taken to the next level very quickly,” Maddox said. “People escalate things very quickly on the internet.”

Maddox said the Seattle Kraken made a mistake in pandering to the hockey romance subgenre of BookTok, a corner of the community that has a very passionate fandom. 

“They were rewarding this kind of content creation and feeding the hype and feeding the frenzy. And then as soon as it started not going well for them, they dropped the whole situation and pretended that it never happened,” Maddox said. “I think they owe Kierra, Alex, his family and a lot of people an apology in this situation.”

Lewis posted on her TikTok page that the withdrawal of support from the Seattle Kraken left her confused. She said she was initially encouraged by the team to post her videos about Alexander Wennberg. Now, she said, the team account has unfollowed her.

The comments under the Seattle Kraken’s TikToks as well as the Wennbergs’ Instagram posts were flooded with people taking sides in the situation.

Some remarked how they only got into hockey because of Lewis and that Lewis gave the team exposure.

Others took it a step further and sent hate toward the Wennbergs, criticizing Felicia Wennberg for showing Lewis’ name in one of her Instagram Stories and alleging she used BookTok for clout until it no longer served her. A few accused her of being insecure and disingenuous about her concerns, pointing out that she had shared a screenshot of a Lewis’ video from April. Some also cited a social media post where she had praised BookTok’s love for her husband. 

Felicia Wennberg responded to some criticism in another Instagram Story posted on Sunday. 

“I understand 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 seem unable to grasp that the video continued to show up in our life on a daily basis,” she wrote.

How BookTok ended up so divided

People often feel defensive or combative when they feel like their fandom is under attack, as it can feel like a judgment on their values or character, Maddox said.

Parasocial relationships to creators like Lewis, as well as players like Wennberg, can also create situations in which people cross the boundaries of acceptable fan behavior. 

I can understand wanting to throw up your defenses and even go on the offensive. But everything we do online has really real offline consequences

-Dr. Jessica Maddox, assistant professor at the University of Alabama

“You feel loyalty to a creator who you think is going through an unfair time or you think your community is under attack,” Maddox said. “I can understand wanting to throw up your defenses and even go on the offensive. But everything we do online has really real offline consequences.”

Kraken fans likely conflated the Wennbergs’ condemnation of sexual harassment as an attack on the hockey romance community, Maddox said.

Some BookTokers felt compelled to defend Lewis, who represents the joint fandom of BookTokers and hockey enthusiasts. Others made TikToks firmly denouncing Lewis and her followers’ behavior. Several expressed concern that the wider community was being blamed for a situation that a niche group participated in. 

Alvarez, the BookToker who has been vocal about the saga, hopes that people outside of BookTok don’t generalize the community because of this incident. She reiterated that the community is diverse and has a variety of people with different interests.

“There is a community there that is beautiful to explore," she said, "and that feel that this entire situation and the behaviors that were exhibited throughout are not acceptable for our community and the community that we represent."