The Lasso Way of a Fool

A smiling, mustachioed man bounces through the streets of London, greeting strangers and spouting an endless barrage of quotable one-liners. Many bystanders might dismiss him as a quack or an idiot, but his simple optimism has charm and staying power. Meet G.K. Chesterton.

You’d be forgiven for assuming the man is instead Ted Lasso, eponymous star of the hit series on Apple TV-Plus, which is up for 21 Emmy awards this year. Chesterton and Ted have a lot in common beyond their facial hair. “I spoke to the owner of The Sun,” his boss tells him, trying to control a PR scandal. “You spoke to God?” Ted asks, astonished. On the surface, of course, this highlights Ted’s ignorance of a major British newspaper. But it also reminds us that there is a perspective larger than the momentary.

Ted Lasso fulfills the archetype of the holy fool, serving to reorient our view of the real — and particularly the true nature of sport. Ted encapsulates a philosophical optimism that delights in being. He plays the part of the true innocent, fostering goodness and hope. But in doing so he disrupts the cynicism of the supporting characters because he refuses to fit into their expectations. Innocence is not ignorance. Ted is neither naive nor incompetent (at least, not insofar as the true purpose of sport goes). His frustrating, counterintuitive methods — and their success — draw attention to the fact that the Richmond community has the wrong perspective on life. Once they turn their heads, so to speak, they begin to realize that their own shallow and misdirected loves are the true absurdities.

The screenplay for the pilot episode makes a point of describing Ted’s “childlike wonder.” The Brits see Ted as a clueless American buffoon, whose visible excitement is out of place in a serious context such as Premier League football

But G.K. Chesterton argues that the true holy fool possesses a “mystical minimum of gratitude” for life and existence as such. He revolts against pessimism because he has an existential impulse that being itself is good, even extraordinary. Chesterton opines in his autobiography that he much prefers this sort of surface-level frivolity. “I do think there is something sporting about conscious buffoonery,” he writes in “An Apology for Buffoons.” Visible foolishness is often so much healthier than a hidden foolishness about the things that are really important. 

The Holy Fool

The holy fool has a long and broad historical tradition. Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote is a prime example, as are many of Dostoevsky’s characters. But how do we distinguish a holy fool from a mere moron? 

The influential sociologist Peter Berger analyzes the holy fool as a constant stranger and alien with no permanent home in Redeeming Laughter. He either lacks or rejects formal or traditional learning, though he possesses a superior and mysterious wisdom. His folly is in fact a magical act that produces a “counterworld” meant to “illuminate the realities of the ordinary world, typically in a debunking or critical manner.”  

As another sociologist, Anton C. Zijderveld, explains, fools, by merit of their critique of the status quo, can easily become (or be perceived as) rebels or revolutionaries. But Zijderveld articulates two distinct modes of folly, the regressive and progressive. Traditional follies serve to re-establish the social order by highlighting its transgression. By contrast, progressive folly loses its numinous character and descends into wittiness or routine. Contrast the ecstatic prophet with the court jester. “Progressive” fools partake of the disintegration of modernity and lose the ability to truly challenge our view of the real.

For Chesterton, foolish paradoxes reorient our view of the world. The holy fool stands on his head and draws mockery from those who appear more ‘grounded’ and who equate realism with cynicism. The holy fool may have his head in the clouds, but that is the truly natural orientation. It is the rest of society with their heads in the sand, shutting their eyes to the inherent goodness of the world, that need to flip their perspective. Chesterton’s fools (like Innocent Smith or Father Brown) remain truly subversive.

For Ted, his foolishness is what so disarms club owner Rebecca. Her ex-husband Rupert may appear dapper and in control on the surface of things, but inwardly he is the true child: immature, vindictive, and pleasure-seeking. Ted is his opposite: His childlikeness hides a genuineness and a concern for what is really important. He drives this point home to Rupert before defeating him in darts. People underestimate him because they are judgmental rather than curious. They never look beneath the surface. By the end of the final season of Ted Lasso, which aired earlier this year, the Richmond fans’ rude epithet for the (now) universally beloved Ted is transferred at stadium scale to Rupert himself.

Glory Hounds or Greyhounds?

Ted may not know much about football, but he does have experience in creating institutions and forging teams. He excels at creating rituals: biscuits with the boss, the howling of the Diamond Dogs, and the reverence toward the “Believe” poster. Ted understands that such activities change a culture, and that only the optimist is an effective reformer, as Chesterton reminds us. Richmond has suffered under mediocrity for years. But Ted’s passion for his players creates real transformation, in the form of new bonding activities and a sense of community off the pitch.

This is another paradox. Chesterton observes in All Things Considered, a collection of essays, that professional sport is at the same time incredibly individualist, in that only the most exceptional individuals can participate, and incredibly communal, because of our tendency to identify with our favorite athletes. The English worship athletics, says Chesterton, because this is a form of the worship of England, of national pride. In The New Jerusalem, he remarks how puzzling it is that sports fandom was somehow considered a sign of decadence in ancient Rome’s Coliseum but of energy in modern London’s Wembley Stadium. But professional athletes, like Homer’s Achaeans, desire glory. Their strength is pushed toward that purpose. Jamie Tartt is a clear example of this individualist desire for glory run rampant. 

That is why Chesterton chides us in What’s Wrong with the World: “We have the same grossly insincere pretense that sport always encourages a sense of honor, when we know that it often ruins it.” Chesterton might speak these words to Jamie, as he writes in Tremendous Trifles: “You love glory; you love applause; you love the earthquake voice of victory; you do not love [football]. You do not love [football] until you love being beaten at [football]. It is we the bunglers who adore the occupation in the abstract. It is we to whom it is art for art’s sake.” 

And so, when Jamie is finally rejected by everyone in his quest for worldly glory, he returns to surrogate father-figure Ted, the seeming bungler, in order to receive comfort and connection. A silly army figurine becomes an important symbol. And Jamie becomes a true leader and sportsman.

For Ted, sport is not about glory but about community and mutual support and respect. He rates his connection with his players far higher than any occurrence on the football pitch. As he says in the episode “Make Rebecca Great Again,”

I think one of the neatest things about being a coach is the connection you get to make with your players. That’s a loss that hits me a lot harder and is gonna stay with me a lot longer than anything that happens while playing a game on a patch of grass.


In fact, he tells his son in “Full” that being a coach is quite similar to being a father, trusting that the lessons he’s imparted stick with them and allow them to make the right decisions:

It ain’t like being a football coach back home, kiddo. I got a lot less control, ’cause once the game gets going, I can’t tell my fellas what to do. So I just gotta hope that everything I’ve been trying to teach ’em made some sort of impact on ’em, and that they’ll make the right decisions when they’re out there on their own. You know, it’s kind of like being a dad, I guess, huh?


By the end of the series, Jamie’s acceptance of the mentoring he disrespected has integrated him into the team and even earned the friendship of his onetime rival Roy Kent.

The Lasso Way

When Trent Crimm finishes his biography of the team at the end of the series, he titles it The Lasso Way. But Ted gently rebuffs that idea: “It’s not about me. It never was.” Ted has been the spark to a self-sustaining cultural transformation that can now go on without him. This is the most important element of his holy foolery. 

Any fool can criticize; only a holy fool has a positive vision, a way of shalom, to propound instead. While Ted’s vision in many ways lacks real philosophical depth, he at least has a better way of life to teach the team. As Chesterton says, “Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.” Ted gives AFC Richmond something to love, something to which they can be loyal, and he correctly locates this “something” not in athletic achievement but in people, in genuine human connection and intimacy. Ted’s foolishness was the right way up all along.

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