In the world of professional sports, fame, success, and looks often overshadow the personal struggles of athletes. Alex Wennberg is no exception. More than just a skilled professional athlete, Wennberg is a son, a partner, a father, and above all, a person. Over the course of the last week, Wennberg and his wife, Felicia, have been outspoken regarding the numerous messages and comments received by the couple regarding Wennberg’s appearance, many of which have been sexual in nature.
For context, Wennberg has been the subject of major infatuation from members of the TikTok subgroup referred to as “BookTok.” Books about hockey, specifically those with LGBTQIA+ characters, have become moderately popular amongst BookTok followers, so it’s no surprise that Wennberg, one of the most outspoken LGBTQIA+ allies in the league, has become quite popular within the fandom. In now-deleted TikTok videos, the Seattle Kraken recognized Wennberg’s popularity within the community. On Friday, July 28, Felicia took to social media to express her and her family’s discomfort with the objectification of her husband.
“So I’ve joked before and called my husband book[toks] w*nkb*nk and honestly did not mind. I always thought Alex was the most beautiful person in the world and that it just seems the world finally caught up. The reason I struggled to navigate this is while I’m all for female empowerment and especially around sex there has been videos and comments made that has crossed the line of what it means to fancy someone and when it actually sounds pretty predatory and exploiting.”Felicia Wennberg via Instagram (@feliciaweerenwennberg)
Felicia Wennberg speaks on this issue, not only as the wife of a person that has been subjected to alleged sexual harassment but also as a scholar on topics such as consent. Felicia also took exception to claims that her expressing her family’s discomfort was a direct attack on a BookTok content creator, posting a statement to her Instagram story on Saturday.
Alex Wennberg did not shy away from making a statement himself, taking to Instagram on Saturday.
“Over the last couple of days, me and especially my wife, have been getting lots of criticism about speaking up on sexual harassment on TikTok. As someone who [has] been media trained my whole career I’ve been taught to bite my tongue and to leave it instead of making a statement. But it has gone too far for me to stay quiet when people post vile comments on my wife’s Instagram and on photos of our child. The reason my wife said something and not me is simply she does it better and more bravely than me. 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… 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 regarding moving forward… Enough of sexual harassment, and harassment of our character and our relationship.”– Alex Wennberg via Instagram (@alexanderwennberg)
The Wennbergs are exactly right – no person should be subjected to sexual harassment, regardless of a person’s status within society. Perhaps this is a case study on parasocial interactions and relationships, a concept coined in 1956 by Donald Horton and R. Richard Wohl, describing mediated and/or one-sided relationships. A dramatic increase in access has enabled people of all identities to objectify and harass their favorite athletes and celebrities under the guise that their words do not have an effect on their idols.
While Alex Wennberg appeared critical of his bravery in his statement on the situation, it’s far from the first time he has been vocal on social issues within the hockey community. While this may be the first time he has been outspoken about the toxicity of hyper-sexualizing someone, his support for the LGBTQIA+ community has demonstrated courage in a way that many professional athletes, let alone hockey players, have not yet been able to do.
As the Wennbergs continue to gracefully process the situation at hand, the moral of the story is clear – all people, professional athletes and their families included, have a right to express discomfort in the way they are perceived and call out the exploitive things that are said about them. When an individual expresses their discomfort, specifically as it pertains to their relationship or how they are perceived, it is wise to believe them and respect their wishes.
When I think about some of the most down-to-earth and kind people around the sport of hockey, the Wennbergs are one of the first families that come to mind. There’s no denying about the stigma associated with speaking up in the hockey community, and Felicia is hopeful this is a time for change.
Lastly, there has always been a stigma for speaking up in the hockey world which is why players are afraid to speak up about injustices and their families get worried that taking a stand would jeopardize their career. With the backlash I received I can understand why, but I hope this is the start of a conversation that was long overdue in hockey culture.Felicia Wennberg via Instagram (@feliciaweerenwennberg)
Kudos to the Kraken for scrubbing their social media of content that made the family uncomfortable. The Kraken continues to demonstrate they are an organization that cares about their players while also finding new and exciting ways to engage new hockey fans.
As Alex begins to prepare to lead the Seattle Kraken to their second-straight playoff birth, I wish him and his family the best.