Kraken remove BookTok content after Alex Wennberg controversy

The Seattle Kraken have removed TikTok videos marketed to the hockey BookTok community after forward Alex Wennberg and his wife, Felicia, published statements that criticized the objectification of NHL players.

"BookTok" is a commonly used TikTok hashtag by content creators who want to discuss, review or promote books. A subset of that community focuses on hockey romance novels, with some users fixating on actual NHL players as proxies for fictional characters. One of those players was Wennberg, 28, a nine-year veteran who just completed his second season with the Kraken.

His wife, Felicia Wennberg, had joked about that fan fixation in the past. But last week, she published a statement on Instagram that said videos and comments made about her husband had "crossed the line of what it means to fancy someone" to the point where they sounded "predatory and exploiting" to her.

"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.

Alex Wennberg published his own statement a few days later, citing backlash that his wife had received for "speaking up about sexual harassment on TikTok" in her comments. He noted "vile comments" on Felicia Wennberg's Instagram, including on photos of their 2-year-old son.

"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 for is a little respect and common sense moving forward. We can all take a joke and funny comments but when it turns personal and into something bigger that effects our family, we need to tell you that we've had enough. Enough of sexual harassment, and harassment of our character and our relationship. Thank you for your understanding."

When reached by ESPN, the Kraken had no comment on the matter, pointing instead to the statements posted by the Wennberg family.

Last winter, the Kraken's social media team embraced the hockey BookTok community's interest in their players. The Kraken changed their TikTok bio to "Mostly BookTok" and began publishing videos that targeted that audience. Some featured players like Wennberg and defenseman Vince Dunn walking in slow motion before games while wearing business suits, with captions like "when you accidentally become a BookTok account and now that's all you can post."

But as of Monday, the Kraken had archived any media that referenced BookTok, removing images and videos from all public social media feeds. Links to Wennberg videos on TikTok now result in error messages.

The controversy has had a significant impact on the literary corner of hockey fandom.

Author Emily Rath's hockey romance books about the fictional Jacksonville Rays have been widely read and discussed on BookTok. She watched her community fracture last weekend when the controversy regarding Wennberg crossed over into wider hockey fandom and media.

"BookTok is a hashtag that's been used by a billion users," she told ESPN. "There's been all this rhetoric that BookTok has been sexually harassing Alex Wennberg, and that's not correct. It's not even about hockey romance readers, either, because 99% of them are just normal people that found a love for the game and a community. These books have opened the door [to hockey]."

Rath said that the Wennberg situation is about "that 1%" that allows the lines between reality and fiction to get blurred.

"What we're having is this very odd situation where a fandom was created around Alex Wennberg and they took it too far," she said. "They weren't treating him like a hockey player or even like a fictional boyfriend. You just saw them sexually fantasizing about him in crass and inappropriate ways in a public forum."

Rath watched this trend unfold on TikTok and then watched the Kraken embrace it. Teams like the Chicago Blackhawks dabbled in BookTok social media outreach too, but not to the level of the Kraken. In May, Seattle invited influencer Kierra Lewis -- who has 1.1 million followers on TikTok -- to attend a second-round Stanley Cup playoff game against the Dallas Stars. They flew her to Seattle, provided her with tickets and gifted her a customized Kraken jersey with "BookTok" on the nameplate.

Rath said there was a miscalculation by NHL teams when it came to serving that audience.

"These NHL teams cannot abstract their players the way that fans do," she said. "They're going to treat them like characters in books or treat them as if they're fictional when they're not. But when your own company is doing that to you, that's where I drew the line."

Rath said she reached out to the Kraken over social media and asked them to stop making content that objectified Wennberg.

"It was out of concern for Alex. Like, he's a public figure. But at what point are men in sports allowed to be able to stand up and say, 'I do not consent to this objectification?' Men are allowed to set boundaries as well," she said. "But it was also out of respect for my readers. They feel so gross. They feel so unwelcome. They feel judged. This could have been about joy and the positive impact of bringing more women into sports. Sexually objectifying your own employees is not the look. That was my take."

After their playoff run ended, the Kraken began significantly scaling back its BookTok-related content. With the Wennbergs having pushed back so vehemently, the majority of references by Seattle to that community have been scrubbed across the team's social media platforms.

Rath applauded the Kraken's decision to remove videos aimed at that segment of the BookTok audience. But she disagreed with the team's decision to not offer a statement about that removal.

"The Kraken were in the wrong in feeding into it, but they're in the right to stop it," she said. "But I think if they're going to expunge the content, they have to make a statement. That looks awful."