At the Emmy Awards on Sunday night, one transatlantic football coach stood head and shoulders above stiff and remarkably less hirsute competition to scoop a formidable 7 gongs. The man in question was, of course, Ted Lasso, the eponymous hero of a sweet and surprisingly earnest comedy about a US college football coach who crosses the pond to improve the fortunes of a middling English football team. The cutesy brainchild of SNL alumnus and recent tabloid-fodder Jason Sudeikis, Ted is a Kansas native who’s about as radioactively sunny as a glitter-covered H-Bomb; he’s a man who knows nothing about football, England, or, well, just about anything, really.
Or so he leads you to believe. In actuality, Lasso has things sussed. He understands what it means to be vulnerable. He can placate a locker room full of prickly British footballers with a Walt Whitman quote about the virtues of curiosity over judgment and a misty-eyed God-Bless-America-Yee-Haw-Apple-Pie smile. Lasso doesn’t need to acknowledge the singular English truth that your common or garden centre-forward thinks Shakespeare is something you drink with Red Bull at the end of a heavy night at the sports and social club in Bognor Regis. None of this matters to dear Coach. Because the beauty of Ted, and the beatification of Mr Lasso as the last vestiges of acceptable straight, white, maleness, takes root in his inherent (if weird) goodness. He’s a strange animal, one who, to cynical hearts and beleaguered minds, should, and realistically does not exist. Ted Lasso is the unicorn, or rather, the goldfish, of 2021 existence. He is the 31-century man.
Why, then, should we trust him?
Because Ted Lasso knows communications. What’s more, he’s not frightened of them; Lasso knows who he wants to be- he’s yet to make it into that slippery ‘self-actualisation’ phase (Ted’s character arc shows him suffering with panic attacks and forcing himself to accept his impending divorce), but it’s his conviction which defines him. Ted Lasso has one core narrative: kindness. It’s this intransigence that inflicts his actions with an almost childlike whimsy, one that could, in the wrong circumstances, almost be perceived as facetiousness; one of his incendiary AFC Richmond players could brutally murder another team’s goalie in a moment of on-pitch madness, and Ted looks as though he’d simply whip out his copy of A Wrinkle in Time and gently request that his blood-splattered football star release his grip on his victim’s intestine. “Life, it ain’t easy, sir. We all make mistakes, but you got this,” he’d say. Or something equally American.
Detractors, for this very reason, have accused Ted of being sickly sweet and almost unthinking in his vision quest to bring emotional enlightenment to an unremarkably suburban British town. Others will consider Ted Lasso as conditional upon the utopian version of England portrayed in the programme, one in which football hooliganism is bloodless and almost comical, enacted solely for the ‘love of the game’; to consider some fans’ racist abuse of players following England’s defeat in the Euros 2020 final back in July suggests that sceptics may have a point. Life is not so linear. Men, and women, are crueller in real life than they are in the whimsical world of Coach Lasso. What the same naysayers fail to recognise, however, is that Ted is not supposed to exist in real life.
Ted Lasso is who we could have, if only we deserved him.
He’s a model of man for men, and that’s ok; Lasso offers a new strain of non-toxic masculinity to the most afflicted, chauvinistic, and often hateful faction of maleness- the football crowd. Ted is there to tell us all how to engage with each other, be that through his team or how he treats women. Lasso is intended as a paragon of communication, as someone who has nothing to hide, who is secure in his narratives and in his mission statement: not only does he want to successfully coach his team to victory in the Premier League, he wants to do it with compassion.
Proof of this tactic comes in his ability to forgive. When he discovers that his new boss and owner of AFC Richmond hired him solely as a means of destroying the team by coaching them to failure, he doesn’t castigate her. He doesn’t yell or storm out or attack. He accepts her apology and tells her that divorce is difficult, that he doesn’t blame her for using his livelihood as a weapon against her ex-husband, for whom the club was a pride and joy. Ted Lasso is so sure of himself and what he wants from life that it’s irrelevant whether or not she asks for forgiveness- it’s outside of his remit to expect it. It’s enough for him just to ‘be’. More to the point, Ted owns his story; he takes his experience of marital separation and uses it as a chance to inspire fortitude in someone else. He’s not bitter or over-macho. He’s just a man who knows what it’s like to hurt.
What, then, can we learn from Ted Lasso, the programme, and Ted Lasso, the man?
Perhaps that, in real life, people are not so nice, so organic, so open to liberating authenticity. In any other locker room in the country, Ted Lasso might have found himself with a black eye. But it just so happens that he stumbled into the thoroughly decent (albeit fictional) dugout of AFC Richmond, into a situation that conveniently allowed him to impart his wisdom upon us as viewers. Ted exists to suggest that communication could be as easy and as characterful as he makes it, if only we were all a little nicer, a little more receptive to uniqueness, in people and in circumstances. Lasso is an advert for owning your story, coming to grips with your past and using it as impetus to progress. He shows us how staying true to who you are and utilising what makes you different can impact those who are typically excluded from the narrative of emotive self-expression; if we had men like Ted Lasso as a visible presence in real-life football, maybe more soccer-mad youths would think before pressing ‘send’ on racist tweets or heckling on football terraces in the name of performative masculinity.
Lasso shows us it’s ok to be vulnerable, and what’s more, it’s ok to ask for help. He tells us to ‘be curious’- that it’s time we stepped out of our comfort zone and confronted ourselves about what we really want. Most crucially of all, he tells us to do it with kindness. Maybe it’s time we listened.
Author: Anna Hanlon