Forgiveness has always been a theme of Ted Lasso. Now the show’s writers are bringing audiences to tears with it in episode seven, underlining the importance of not fighting back, but fighting forward.
How are we meant to react when really bad things happen to us? Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh) is angry when his beloved restaurant is broken into and ruined with doors, glass and furniture smashed. It’s a horrible hate crime.
Fortunately, his dad, Ola, (Nonso Anozie) is visiting from Nigeria, on hand to give him advice. “Anger will only weaken you and if you really want to piss off the people who did this, forgive them,” he tells Sam.
It’s a tried and trusted trick encouraged by psychologists who argue that remaining angry with someone confines us to a state of victimhood. Until we forgive, we remain locked out of the possibility of healing. Remember Ted’s philosophy about how we should be goldfish when insults come our way because goldfish have a ten-second memory and are therefore the happiest animals in the world?
Before signing Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play Major League Baseball, Branch Rickey, the Dodgers’ General Manager, reputedly told him: “I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.”
Rickey was looking for an individual who was both a great athlete and a ‘gentleman’ — a person with the inner strength and self-restraint who could withstand hostility and aggression without being reactive. He needed an athlete who wouldn’t perceive ‘not fighting back’ as a sign of weakness or lack of courage.
Fighting forward is the true sign of strength. It demonstrates our ability to choose our reactions, another of Ted Lasso’s themes. Psychologist and Auschwitz survivor Viktor E. Frankl argued that one of man’s last remaining freedoms, even in the worst of all circumstances, is our choice in how we react, and that it is our reactions which can influence the outcomes in our lives. That’s our best means of fighting forward.
The beauty of Ted Lasso is that it is never frightened to tackle topical storylines. The hate crime against Sam arises from a twitter spat between him and the British Home Secretary who is telling migrants they aren’t welcome in Britain. He is told that he should “shut up and dribble”, a direct reference to NBA stars LeBron James and Kevin Durant who were handed the same insult by right-wing news host Laura Ingraham when they made comments about former President Trump.
The ripped-from-the-headlines story also echoes the awful sequence of events that came after the 2022 Euros when black England players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka missed penalty kicks and were inundated with racist abuse from so-called fans.
“One of the themes is that evil exists – bullies, toxic masculinity, malignant narcissists – and we can’t just destroy them,” Jason Sudeikis, co-creator, co-writer, and star of the show has explained in interviews. “It’s about how you deal with those things. That’s where the positivity and some of the lessons come in – it’s about what we have control over.”
There is no shortage of sports metaphors and bird crumbs on the Ted Lasso messaging trail in episode seven encouraging us all to find the strength to live better. Coach Beard tells the team to let go of baggage and follow their intuition. Jamie Tartt sacrifices personal glory for the greater good. Even Roy advises turning frowns upside-down. But the best lines of all are about forgiveness and ‘fighting forward’.
Lucy Broadbent is the author of What Would Ted Lasso Do? How Ted’s Positive Approach Can Help You. Find it on Amazon here.
Season 3 of Ted Lasso is streaming on Apple TV+