In many places, the institutions that are supposed to form good men have failed. And they have failed because many of the men who run them have been failures. Scouting has been plagued by rampant abuse of boys that is still coming to light. The Church will be dealing for generations with what Bishop Barron calls a “diabolical masterpiece” of clergy sex abuse. In many communities, absentee fathers continue to be the norm for families rather than the exception.
Organized sports used to be one of the institutions that formed decent men too, but it has failed just like the rest. Big money from big sports, and especially NCAA football, have caused some large universities to over-prioritize their sports programs, at times to the detriment of academics. Coaches have become the highest paid members of many college staffs, and locker rooms have become places where real moral failure is sometimes ignored in the service of on-field victory. In its most diabolical manifestations, we got Jerry Sandusky’s forty-five child sexual abuse convictions for manipulating and assaulting vulnerable boys during his long career as an assistant football coach at Penn State. And there’s Larry Nassar, the Michigan State University medical professor who was finally imprisoned in 2018 for sexually abusing multiple members of the USA women’s gymnastics team, among other crimes.
In the United States lately, professional sports have been a locus of the same virtue signaling and divisiveness that we endure in our politics and religion. In Europe, hooliganism has long been a sad element in the story of the so-called “beautiful game” of soccer. This summer’s European Cup tournament included tension over anti-racist gestures of “taking a knee” during national anthems, and there were reports of racist abuse of three English players after the Cup final.
Ted Lasso is a situation comedy for AppleTV+ that imagines a better way for men, for sports, and for all of our lives together. Season one was a sweet dream and a balm to many of our souls during the worst of our recent pandemic nightmare, and season two debuts today with great anticipation. Ted Lasso, played by Saturday Night Live alumnus Jason Sudeikis, is a good man who makes other men better, and the show is an invitation to change course toward everyday virtue for the male sex in general. Women love the show as well. In fact, it is one of those rare cultural offerings that would be hard for anyone not to like and find deeply enriching.
Lasso is an aw-shucks American football coach, unexpectedly hired and shipped across the Atlantic to ensure the failure of the fictional English Premier League soccer team AFC Richmond. The new owner, a powerful woman named Rebecca Welton, played by Hannah Waddingham, is counting on Lasso to be just another idiot man, whose predictable weaknesses will allow her to get back at her philandering ex-husband, who has lost his beloved football club in the divorce settlement. But Rebecca does not account for Ted’s unconventional, almost otherworldly, idea of success. Lasso turns out to be an antidote to all the so-called toxic masculinity poisoning AFC Richmond’s locker room—and our culture. He even changes his sweater, Mr. Rogers-style, when he gets to work each day.
Lasso is a servant leader—a coach with no guile whose primary concern is the development of character, even at the professional level. He is a funny and kindly Socrates figure in his interactions with everyone, and he is like Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas in viewing everything as having a purpose that can be moved toward its natural fulfillment and flourishing. Although the show is set in the post-Christian landscape of twenty-first-century England, Lasso displays an almost Christ-like ability to make disciples who make more disciples. He has his own worries, including a failing marriage back in the States, but his conversations about relationships and responsibility tend to have a ripple effect as his good words infect and spread.
Lasso is not perfect, and the show claims no Christian morality. But there are not-so-subtle threads throughout season one connecting ideas of chastity, monogamy, honesty, and cooperation. Lasso never gives up on hope, and he displays many of the fruits of the Spirit, being quick to forgive and caring nothing about his own glory or credit. Although Lasso’s philosophy of winning is not quite as theologically specific as C.S. Lewis’, his approach gets at one of Lewis’ most famous lines: “Aim at Heaven, and you will get the earth thrown in.”
Ted Lasso is simply heartwarming, loaded with Gen-X cultural references and hilarious Anglo-American misunderstandings. It features excellent music from the sometime evangelical Christian Marcus Mumford. The show helps to renew our faith in men, but also features great female roles, including (in addition to Hannah Waddingham) Juno Temple as Keeley Jones, whose personal growth involves moving beyond superficiality and promiscuity. If the new batch of episodes is anything like the first season, we may have the closest thing we can get these days to a once-in-a-decade sitcom like Seinfeld or The Office. And this show will make you feel a lot better than those. Its overarching message is Lasso’s favorite motivational word: “Believe.”
We may watch new episodes of Ted Lasso imagining that our crumbling institutions could possibly make good men again after all. And that would be a huge win for all of us.
Season two of Ted Lasso debuts July 23 on AppleTV+.