Positive Masculinity Contributor – Maxwell Hayden
Content Writer | Politics, Philosophy & Economics Student
Direct-to-streaming television shows don’t blow up often. Occasionally you’ll find a diamond in the rough like Stranger Things that manage to grow in popularity by some combination of good reviews and excellent marketing, but most of the time studios find themselves churning out something that will either wind up as a niche favorite in their catalog or a sequel for a popular IP (think Marvel, The Last of Us, One Piece, etc). Ted Lasso, by all metrics, is not a show that should have gone viral— it is an utterly unremarkable concept streaming on Apple-freaking-TV of all platforms. Yet, through strong wholesome messaging and a little bit of luck, Lasso has become a household name, and I think the world is better for it. The show brings difficult issues to the forefront of its plot and uses a refreshingly likable cast of characters to make those problems feel more accessible, bucking the assumptions one might make of a show about a southern football coach. And what is perhaps the most prominent theme of the show? Positive masculinity.
I don’t mean to say that there are no flaws with the way Ted Lasso presents men’s issues—we’ll get into my gripes just as much as we will my highlights—but it is a terrific place to start, especially given how frequently television tends to lean on a few tropes and stereotypes that reaffirm some less preferable masculine traits. We have to celebrate the successes of efforts like these so that a new status quo can emerge, one that’s more welcoming of masculinity in all of its varied forms, good and bad, traditional and otherwise.
Ted Lasso – Men’s Mental Health
I’d be remiss not to start with Ted, the focal point of practically every episode of the show and a wonderful portrayal of how old-school and new-school masculinity can come together to bring about the best of both worlds. Ted is a southern man, born and raised, who on the surface is living the American Dream, coaching football by day and coming home to his wife and son by night. However, after his wife approaches him with some concerns that she may be growing out of love with him, Ted decides to take a job coaching soccer across the globe for a soccer club called Richmond FC. Over the course of the show’s three seasons, Ted is forced to come to terms with the end of this relationship, which is compounded by previously unattended-to trauma concerning his father’s suicide while Ted was a teenager. It's a harrowing story that’s sure to resonate with many, and is handled in the mature and graceful way such a subject mandates.
Ted’s struggles revolve around a series of panic attacks brought about by all of these traumas, and are only allowed to compound because he’s deeply skeptical of therapy. There has always been a negative stigma associated with therapy, especially for men, who are often considered less emotionally needy and are expected to tough out their issues or else risk being labeled a wuss. We learn that Ted has not only developed a no-quit attitude in the wake of his father’s apparent ‘giving up’ on life, but also that his once-wife is dating the relationship counselor she and Ted went to before Ted’s move. Everyone has some amount of baggage like Ted’s, whether that’s a story of someone they know who was let down by a therapist, or some generational concerns that have kept you from considering therapy as a path forward for yourself. But once Ted decides to take a risk on himself, he is rewarded with incremental progress. If I have one gripe with how this is presented, I wish we had gotten to see a little bit of what that process looks like so people aren’t so unsure about the practice of mental healthcare— as someone who has attended talk therapy for years, I can speak to how foreign it can feel to sit down with someone for the first time. Nevertheless, it is a touching reminder that it is never too late for anyone to experiment with ways to improve their lifestyle.
One last note about Ted: he embodies the idea that being kind is not only conducive to more kindness (see Rebecca) but that it is often the easier alternative to being mean/cold/uncaring. Little gestures are something masculine folks should consider more often than we tend to, both in terms of what we’d like to share and to receive.
Roy Kent: Self Expression
Roy is one of the show’s most popular characters, especially through the show’s first two seasons, and it's easy to see why— he starts off being far less “problematic” than many of the other characters who see greater character development. He knows what he’s about, and is willing to stand up to bullies/injustices. That said, he represents an archetype of man we all have experience with: The-One-Who-Keeps-It-All-Bottled-Up. Roy often reacts to conflict with growls and foul language, avoiding any real confrontation, preferring to keep the status quo in exchange for emotional security and a tough-guy persona. The positive female role models in his life, particularly Keeley and his niece, inspire him (with Ted’s help) to be more forthcoming with his needs and strive to be a more complex person than merely the resident mean-mugger.
This means a bit of a personal exploration for the man underneath the rugged face and the soccer persona. Roy has spent the majority of his life with a label that he, in part with the media, had sculpted for himself in his early 20’s, and when anyone decides that it’s time to transition away from their former identity, they are going to enter a bit of a limbo. Everyone thinks Roy could do well for himself if he remains in the world of soccer as a sportscaster, but Roy feels strange having that hoisted upon him at a time when he is just getting ready to open himself up to the whole world of possibilities. But he tries it, and though he doesn’t stick with it for long, has some fun and learns some things along the way.
This illustrates a few important points. In a similar vein to Ted’s story, Roy has to take time to realize he is not alone in his career journey— the people around him are there to support and advise, and he is no less of a man for heeding that feedback. When his identity questions lead him back to where he began, Roy didn’t reinvent the wheel. He recognized that, in originally choosing soccer for himself, he had found a certain personal fulfillment that remained with him through the years, and that’s okay. Knowing yourself gives you that luxury. Those two opposing but complementary forces, having the humility to listen and the confidence to decide, are hard to strike the right balance for, but can be rewarding to explore further for those who dare to pursue themselves boldly and with open arms.
Jamie Tartt: Positive Friendships
I know a lot, and I mean a lot, of men who make the claim that part of what they find fulfilling in their male friendships is the liberty to rib one another without taking anything personally. While I believe that such a thing can be done in a healthy way, I also believe that’s the exception rather than the rule, a claim supported by the way Jamie Tartt evolves as a character. Jamie is a massive prick through season one, constantly “having a go” at friends and foe alike in a way that derived him a lot of attention and made him feel like the top dog. As we come to discover, a lot of that pull to superiority is a defense mechanism to protect Jamie from people like his dad, who believes Jamie isn’t a worthwhile human unless he is indisputably the best. This is an exaggerated version of what compels all of us towards insults and nasty behavior, and it’s often a more socially sound strategy to lift the people around you up more often, both because that helps people feel good about themselves and because it encourages a culture of slinging compliments rather than taunts.
By the conclusion of season 3, Jamie is, in my opinion, the most enjoyable character in the show. That’s because he makes an active effort to redeem himself in the eyes of his peers rather than brush his old attitude under the rug, which derives him a lot of personal satisfaction. He isn’t a completely different person by any means; in fact, his personality finally begins to shine when the generic bully behavior gets sidelined in favor of clever jokes and sincere anecdotes. Jamie still presents very masculine, but channels that stubborn, disciplined nature into self improvement to phenomenal results.
If for whatever reason you have gotten this far in the article and have not seen Ted Lasso, I would highly recommend you check it out. There is seemingly no end to the ways these characters manage to lift one another up and bring out the best in each other, which makes for a great bit of escapism in a pinch. There are some great lessons to be learned from the show, but more than anything I want to use examples like Ted Lasso to demonstrate how easy it is to find these kinds of lessons everywhere when you’re looking for it. If you’re striving to improve yourself, whether it has to do with your masculinity or otherwise, step one should always be to take in as much as you can before you get to work.