'We're Richmond Till We Die'
Lessons in Neighborliness and Care from 'Ted Lasso'
"I promise you there is something worse out there than being sad, and that's being alone and being sad. Ain't no one in this room alone."
It’s a show about football1, but there’s hardly any football. It’s a show about a group of athletes who lose more often than they win. It’s a show about a coach who doesn’t know what he’s doing.
This spring, “Ted Lasso” was Apple TV’s most popular series by far, reaching 795 million viewing minutes in one week alone. The television show has enchanted countless U.S. viewers. Margaret Renkl even described it as “a healing salve for national fury” in a New York Times column.
In light of the above paradoxes, however, you might find the show’s popularity confusing. How does “Ted Lasso” enchant its audience without heart-racing sports clips, huge upsets, or fascinating descriptions of strategy? Without offering us a straightforward narrative of underdog success?
I’ve been asking that question for a while, and pondering various answers. It is obvious that “Ted Lasso” is about people, community, and relationships. But I think it shares a lovely (and counterintuitive) take on growth. Rather than telling its audiences that growth automatically results in success, the show suggests that true maturation fosters care. And that distinction is worth meditating on.
Consider your favorite sports film. The show probably ends with victory: with a massive upset, a cheering crowd, and a trophy. That’s what Hollywood generally gives us when we talk about sports. But “Ted Lasso” is not your average sports show. Perhaps that is why so many love it. Few shows on television have ever modeled the rapport, trust, or love we saw in “Ted Lasso.” These are its core values, the foundation the show builds on. And because of those core values, it devotes much of its time to exploring the relational, social, and philosophical dynamics of its community.
What happens when we fail, over and over again? What happens when we hurt each other, or when others hurt us? Does it crush us? Can it make us stronger?
“Ted Lasso”’s first season opened on a Richmond team and owner crippled by a lack of care. Former owner Rupert Mannon is an insidious character. He’s narcissistic and exploitative. He fixates on winning popularity, sex, wealth, and acclaim. He has to be the best. His leadership cripples the Richmond team.
In the wake of Rupert’s betrayal and abandonment, his ex-wife Rebecca struggles to figure out what she is for. She’s the new owner of the Richmond team. But at first, all she wants to do is to destroy it, and everything else Rupert loves. It is this despairing and vengeful effort that prompts her to hire Ted Lasso, a little-known American football coach with no knowledge of U.K. football. Prior to Ted’s arrival on the scene, exploitative habits foster depression, suspicion, and loss.
But Ted is a fascinating character. At first, his team disdains him. Journalists make fun of him. His wife doubts him. Yet amid crippling struggles with anxiety and distance from his beloved son, Ted stands for one singular thing: perseverant care.
Ted’s care for others neither flags nor fails. He embraces fidelity and gentleness, despite the challenges and losses of life. And despite his many imperfections, Ted remains faithful to that vision throughout all three seasons.
I should probably be more specific here, as “care” has many potential meanings. We can care very deeply about winning, for example. But when I say Ted cultivates a culture of “care,” I am thinking of the way he thinks about and treats people.
Care can mean “painstaking or watchful attention.” And throughout all three seasons of “Ted Lasso,” we see Ted (and all those around him) grow in the art of noticing. Characters that have suffered neglect, unkindness, and abuse flourish in response to loving attention and affirmation. Characters whose pains and battles go unacknowledged fall into the abyss of hurt pride and brokenness. Attention means everything.
But care has a second, powerful meaning: that of tending or maintenance. Think of “caring” for a garden, a plant, or a pet. To care in this way is to tend. To help a relationship or a person flourish. To encourage them to “become the best version of themselves” (which is, of course, Ted’s explicitly stated purpose of coaching at the beginning of the first season). You might say that to care is to help something or someone grow in virtue. Ted encourages his team and friends in this habit, as well. First, we must notice. But after we’ve built a habit of attention, we have to reach out. Ted makes Rebecca shortbread. Roy coaches Jamie, his longstanding rival. Care fosters growth. And that growth fosters more care. It’s a cycle of health that incrementally builds over the course of each season.
To coach, one might argue, is to garden. Ted thinks and acts like a gardener, eager to tend the life and health of the teammates he’s responsible for. But “Ted Lasso” is beautiful and transformative because it suggests we are each gardeners. This skillset is not limited to whimsical Kansan football coaches. Ted isn’t the star of this show. Almost every character learns to attend, to love, and thus to grow. No community can or should be built around a superstar figure, a singular character without whom the community falls apart. A healthy community grows dynamic leaders left and right. It encourages each community member to practice stewardship and care.
And so the shining moments of “Ted Lasso” aren’t the football wins. They’re the moments in which the Richmond team has a pillow fight. The moment when Jamie Tartt teaches Roy Kent how to ride a bike. The moment when all the coaches band together as “The Diamond Dogs” for heart-to-heart conversations. The moment when three loyal Richmond fans buy Rebecca lunch, telling her that she feels like their mum. The arc of the series moves from hostility and fragility toward fidelity and resilience. Care fosters growth. And growth fosters care.
PS: there’s lots more I’d love to discuss, regarding “Ted Lasso” and community. How does pub life contribute to community? Why do we need third places to build communal life and camaraderie? And then there’s the walkability of Richmond! What about public transportation and the show’s depictions of serendipitous encounters on the street and at bus stops? Would love to hear your thoughts, if you’ve watched the show.
My heartfelt thanks to all those who shared photos of their summer adventures as part of the Pilgrim at Tinker Creek book club and outdoors challenge! Here are a few photos from everyone’s summer adventures:
And Louise is the winner of our giveaway!
Thank you to everyone for sharing such beautiful pictures. Paid subscribers will continue to have access to all the book club posts, if you’d like to read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in the future.
This Homeward Ache, Amy Baik Lee
This beautiful book by Amy Baik Lee explores sensucht—that inexplicable longing we often experience for a place we’ve never known. It also explores placekeeping, the call to make a home in the imperfect and broken world in which we live. It is rich with insight, beauty, and depth. I got to meet Amy this month at The Rabbit Room’s Hutchmoot Conference, and was so blessed by her wisdom and grace. This is a beautiful read for Christians who feel called to stewardship, but also long for the world and life to come.
Red Rising series, Pierce Brown
My husband, brothers, father, dad, and cousins have only been trying to get me to start this sci-fi series for several years. I’m four books in, and thoroughly enjoying it. I think Brown’s exploration of the tension between reform / revolution and preservation / order is especially interesting. I’d love to hear your thoughts, if you’ve read the series!
food + drink
We had an Anne of Green Gables feast in honor of the start of October, and I thought I’d share our menu. We loved all these recipes.
Apple butter linzer cookies. (They disappeared in about an hour.)
Cucumber lemon labneh herb toast, made with the last cucumber in our garden.
Honey baked brie with fig salad and walnuts (we substituted pecans).
And, of course, giant mugs of our favorite Clipper black tea.
Not American football, but “soccer.”