When popular TikTok creator Kierra Lewis made an explicit video objectifying Seattle Kraken player Alex Wennberg, the team invited her to a playoff game.
“Baby, I might not got five holes, but I got three!,” she wailed in the now-deleted clip. “And since you’re so good at assisting, why don’t you assist your teammates in scoring in all three of my holes? HELLO!”
For months, the Kraken embraced this sexually charged content directed at one of their players, even gifting Lewis her own jersey. Wennberg and his wife seemed to love the attention, too. At one point, Felicia referred to her husband as “booktok’s w*nkb*nk.”
Then everything went too far. Now, Wennberg and his wife are calling out Lewis and other TikTokers for their sexualized content. They say the online thirst has crossed over to harassment, and is seeping into their personal lives.
This is what happens when you play with fire; or in this case, rabid social media fandom. The “likes” and trending hashtags are intoxicating until they become creepy.
The Kraken’s TikTok fiasco should be a warning for all sports teams: what happens online seldom stays in cyberspace.
kierra lewis original video that talks about alex wennberg inappropriately pic.twitter.com/TivDYPMAQE
— ? (@dimpleboyie) July 30, 2023
For those who need an explainer: Wennberg became a darling last season of bookish TikTok users who are into the thriving subgenre of hockey-themed romance novels (yes, that is a real thing).
To try and tap into the phenomenon, the Kraken advertised their players to the BookTok community. Wennberg, a tall and handsome Swedish forward with blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, quickly emerged as a breakout star.
In one of the team’s first videos, Wennberg is seen sipping water with the following caption beneath him: “what is booktok and why do they like wenny so much?”
As BookTok’s lust for Wennberg grew more insatiable, the Kraken leaned in. The club changed its account bio to “mostly booktok” and started sharing videos of other players, too.
The sudden, organic partnership was hailed as a marketing coup.
“There’s just something heartwarming about this new relationship,” gushed USA Today’s For The Win.
Until there wasn’t.
Last weekend, Felicia Wennberg shared a series of Instagram stories pleading with fans to stop objectifying her husband. “I feel that women who have experienced catcalling, getting involuntarily filmed in exposed situations (like a groin stretch at their job) should hold ourselves at a higher standard,” she wrote.
To prove her point, the text was posted over a screenshot of Wennberg stretching on all fours.
but 2 days ago, felicia wennberg called out booktok for sexually assaulting her husband alex, which included a screenshot of kiera saying she wants him to “break her back”
she thought it had finally crossed the line, but wished no ill will on booktok, just wanted people to stop pic.twitter.com/OL6G7l4VFx
— maurice (@duamaximoff) July 30, 2023
While the timing of Felicia’s statement seemed curious (the content had been posted for months), she said the family still sees the thirsty videos on a regular basis. Alex added more context, saying TikTokers violated their privacy by leaving “vile” comments on his wife’s Instagram account–including on photos of his young child.
And therein lies the issue: the TikTok thirst hit too close to home.
Experts say this conflict was inevitable, and the Kraken should’ve known better.
“[The Kraken] 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,” Dr. Jessica Maddox, an assistant professor of digital media technology at the University of Alabama, told NBC News. “I think they owe Kierra [Lewis], Alex, his family and a lot of people an apology in this situation.”
That’s not to completely excuse Lewis, or the TikTokers who started flooding Felicia’s Instagram account with sexually degrading comments. But the Kraken encouraged their behavior.
For example: when Lewis attended their aforementioned playoff game, she brought a sign that said “#KrackMyBack.” It doesn’t take a PhD in English studies to figure out the double entendre.
While some “BookTok” mainstays are criticizing Felicia for her about-face, the onus falls on the Kraken. They were the ones pushing her husband on social media, and promoting his objectification.
With the lines between fiction and reality becoming more blurred, very online fans of hockey romance novels started to view Wennberg as a caricature, not a person. In their fantasy, the hunky hockey player was up for grabs, and no comments were beyond the pale.
Drunk with attention, the upstart Kraken ignored troubling signs, and embraced their virality. It gave the expansion franchise a big cultural boost heading into their first playoff run.
But selling out for clout seldom pays off. The Kraken may be able to delete their TikToks and any sign they engaged with the “BookTok” community.
But this debacle will be remembered as a major misfire for a long time.