Apple TV’s comedy “Ted Lasso” has quickly become one of the most popular comedies on television. With its quirky characters and upbeat plot, the show is exactly what everybody needs in 2021. Still, the fan favorite has an even greater value in a sports-related context, as the show teaches powerful lessons about the value of leadership, social justice and athletes’ mental health, transforming “Ted Lasso” into even more of a gem.
The series follows Ted Lasso, an American college football coach who is hired as the head coach of fictional Premier League club AFC Richmond as part of a revenge scheme by club owner Rebecca Welton. Lasso knows nothing about soccer and is unabashed about it.
Yet beyond its obvious entertainment value, “Ted Lasso” subtly tackles important issues, like athlete protests and mental health in sports, without blatant performativity. In the second season’s third episode, Nigerian defender Sam Obisanya protests Dubai Air, AFC Richmond’s main sponsor, after learning of the social injustices committed by its parent company, including oil spills destroying Nigeria’s environment and the company’s subsequent bribery of government officials. Obisanya’s protest of the Dubai Air jersey logo reflects the change occurring in the real sports world as players like Megan Rapinoe lead the U.S. women’s national team’s charge for equal pay and Norwegian players protest human rights abuses in Qatar.
The second season saw the addition of Dr. Sharon Fieldstone, a sports psychologist and the catalyst for the show’s exploration of mental health in athletes. Mental health in sports is a subject that has been historically ignored in the media, and this lack of representation is alarming considering the ubiquity of anxiety disorders in sports.
I have my own history of sports-related stress. In fact, I don’t know many athletes who haven’t had struggles at some point. The pressure associated with sports can create intense emotional responses, which is why the dissolution of the stigma between mental health and sports is critical. Seeing these things discussed on-screen is refreshing.
“Ted Lasso” also centers around the idea of being an underdog, with Lasso and his AFC Richmond club counted out and dismissed, ultimately finding success because of Lasso’s leadership. In doing so, the show highlights the power of positivity in sports and how believing in yourself can lead to prosperity, even when others profess their doubts.
The series excels not only in its ability to relate to real-world issues facing athletes today, but also in its thoughtful and nuanced performances. Series co-creator and writer Jason Sudeikis, who also stars as Lasso, stands out as a coach underestimated by his players, the press and Welton. He wins his players over with morning biscuits and relentless positivity, telling his players to perform without fear by “being a goldfish,” supposedly the happiest animal on earth because of its 10-second memory. Lasso is earnest and sweet but also self-aware and intelligent.
The acerbic Roy Kent, a football legend who joins the coaching staff in the second season, is a fan favorite, mostly because of the relatability of his character for viewers, specifically former athletes. With strength, speed and an anger that fueled his aggressive playing style, Kent is a recently retired AFC Richmond player and a master at the art of swearing.
Even so, Kent has a vulnerability to him. He is tender with his niece Phoebe and does yoga weekly with a group of 60-year-old women. He loves football so much — whether competing in the Premier League or coaching the West London Under-Nine Girls team — that it consumes him.
My affection for Kent stems from the fact that I know Kent. I have been coached by Kents all throughout my soccer career — former players who can’t stay away from soccer, even if they tried. Coaches who are hard on you, scream like crazy and push you to be your best, but only because they care so deeply. Coaches who are endearing and intimidating all at once. Coaches who believe wholeheartedly in you.
At the end of the day, that’s what “Ted Lasso” is all about: believing. In a tender locker room moment, Lasso tapes up a lopsided poster, which succinctly reads, “Believe.”
I believe in the lessons of “Ted Lasso.” I believe in the power of team, of optimism and of having the 10-second memory of a goldfish. Why? A phrase common in English football is, “It’s the hope that kills you.” The perpetually positive Lasso disagrees with the phrase, and so do I. It is the lack of hope that kills you.