I was late to jump on the “Ted Lasso” bandwagon, but I hopped aboard a few weeks ago and have reserved a seat that I intend to keep.
In case you haven’t seen it, “Ted Lasso” is a show on Apple TV+ featuring Jason Sudeikis as the title character, an American football coach who’s hired to lead AFC Richmond, a British soccer team. The team’s owner had acquired the club in a divorce settlement, and her primary aim in hiring Lasso is to ruin the team to avenge her soccer-loving ex-husband.
Ted Lasso, you see, knows nothing about soccer, and his “boss” (Rebecca Welton, played by Hannah Waddingham) believes his soccer naivete will do the team in. But a funny thing happens on Lasso’s way to the pitch: His emotional intelligence and refreshing civility win over the players and, eventually, his boss.
Coach Lasso’s unconventional wisdom includes his observation of goldfish as the happiest animals on earth. “They have a 10-second memory,” he tells one player who’s dwelling on his mistakes. “Be a goldfish, Sam.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about Ted Lasso lately, thanks to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and gymnast Simone Biles.
Biles entered the Games with five Olympic medals – four gold and one bronze – all won at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. In addition, the 24-year-old Texan has won 25 World Championship medals, including 19 gold. Biles made news in Tokyo when she withdrew from the team gymnastics competition, citing mental health reasons – a not unusual occurrence.
“According to one psychologist, it’s common for successful people like Biles to develop perfectionist tendencies,” reported NBC Connecticut. “Dr. Laura Saunders says this can lead to what she describes as ‘black and white thinking.’
“‘It’s a trick that our mind plays on us. It’s either all good or all bad. It’s either perfect or it’s a disaster,’ says Saunders, a psychologist at the Hartford Institute of Living.”
“Every single sport has its different dynamic, and with this one comes the realization that you go down and it could be catastrophic,” added Mary Ann Powers, the head Acrobatics and Tumbling coach at Quinnipiac University, on WTNH. “She can get hurt, in fact, if she tries to work through this thing. It’s not like a quarterback sliding to not get tackled or throw the ball out of bounds. She’s basically living to see another day.”
But neither this reality nor Biles’ unparalleled gymnastic résumé could stop the detractors from weighing in on her decision to withdraw.
“We are raising a generation of weak people like Simone Biles,” said Charlie Kirk, the founder of the conservative organization Turning Point USA. “If she’s got all these mental health problems, don’t show up.”
Others, like Doug Gottlieb of Fox Sports, adopted a purely sexist perspective: “For years, women have said, all we want to be judged as is equal. Generally, we don’t have any sort of critique for our female sports teams. On one hand you want to be viewed, treated, and compensated the same as the men, but on the other hand, whatever you do, just don’t be critical of us.”
These are but a few of the scathing comments that followed Biles’ decision to withdraw. To be fair, many people supported her. But the vitriol that others directed at her says a great deal about the politicized state of America as well as the dysfunction of our media landscape – most notably, social media.
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram encourage anybody and everybody to make statements about anybody and anything, regardless of one’s knowledge. And don’t worry about supporting a post with anything resembling evidence. Just say whatever’s on your mind – facts, truth and civility be damned!
Enter Ted Lasso. In one memorable scene, he engages in a high-stakes darts match with his boss’ ex-husband. As Lasso plays the game, he recites a Walt Whitman quote in recounting the time he was bullied as a kid: “Be curious, not judgmental.” Lasso’s point? By failing to get to know him, people had underestimated him throughout his life, a fact the coach finds empowering.
Lasso punctuates the point by throwing a bullseye and winning the match.
In today’s world of unbridled, warp-speed communication, we should slow down and be curious. We should get to know people before chastising them publicly – like when that person is a suffering Olympic athlete.
In the second season of “Ted Lasso,” the team hires a sports psychologist to help the players work through mental health challenges because even Coach Lasso doesn’t have all the answers. I encourage everyone with even a passing interest in the human condition to do themselves a favor and watch. The timing couldn’t be better.
Barth Keck just completed his 30th year as an English teacher and his 15th year as assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School in Higganum where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language and Composition. Follow Barth on Twitter @keckb33 or email him at email@example.com.
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