As the credits rolled on the final episode of Ted Lasso, we said a collective goodbye to the cast of beloved characters we’d invited into our homes for the last three years. The world was a very different place when the show began in August of 2020. We were months into a global pandemic and toxic levels of political turmoil. Ted Lasso was something we all needed, at a time when we all needed it. The show was a figurative warm hug, when we’d been starved for – quite literally – human contact.
Through our screens, we met characters who were three dimensional, complicated, raw, and real. People who cracked themselves open before our eyes as they navigated life’s challenges. And I’m not talking about the women. No, in Ted Lasso we saw a white whale: men being open and vulnerable with other men.
The themes of support and empathy were consistent throughout Ted Lasso, and are perfectly illustrated by the introduction of the Diamond Dogs during episode 8. A scrappy support group originally composed of Lasso, his assistant coaches, and Director of Communications, Leslie Higgins, the group’s mission is simple: when someone needs help, everyone stops what they’re doing to rally around this person, listen to his problem, and weigh in on solutions. (Note: I believe women simply call this “friendship.”)
Seeing a group of men share genuine feelings, express vulnerability, and provide support should not be an unfamiliar sight. We see women do this all the time, but rarely is this practice normalized in men – in the media or in life. Men are socialized to be tough, to sweep problems under the rug, and told to “man up” when life gets hard. And you know what? This brand of toxic masculinity is one of the reasons why the suicide rate is four times higher in men. The CDC statistics are stark: “Males make up 50% of the population but nearly 80% of suicides.” Whether the topic is dating, sex, divorce, parenting, addiction, coming out, seeking therapy, or anything in between, men deserve the safety and camaraderie of friend groups.
Although there is room for more mental health content targeted to men, what Ted Lasso did was perhaps even more powerful: it showed that there is space for humanity within the competitive, hyper-masculine environment of sports.
ESPN’s Ryan Clark’s podcast The Pivot (in partnership with his friends Fred Taylor and Channing Crowder) accomplishes a similar goal. With the tagline of “Accept, Adjust & Move Forward,” The Pivot is a space for guests – often men, in sports and entertainment – to have raw, in-depth conversations about challenging experiences, and how they adapted. You’ll find episodes on Ryan Leaf and his battle with addiction, with former Rutgers player Eric LeGrand who experienced a life-changing injury, and with New York Jets DT Solomon Thomas who founded The Defensive Line, a suicide prevention and mental health advocacy organization, in his sister’s honor.
The intimate discourse seen on Ted Lasso and The Pivot is incredibly important. It normalizes the experience of struggle, help-seeking behavior, and the external expression of emotion. In one particularly poignant clip, Clark shares how suicide has personally touched his life, and the power of asking, “You good? Are you ok? And do you need anything?” These conversations, these simple questions, do and have the capacity to save lives.
Clark is an especially credible host, and it matters that these conversations are taking place in typically hyper-masculine spaces. We don’t often see successful men bare their souls unapologetically, and The Pivot creates the space for just that. The takeaway is clear: if people like Clark and The Rock can share their vulnerabilities, perhaps others will do the same in their own lives.
I hope we will see more shows highlighting how social support, mental health treatment, and being open about our struggles is a crucial part of the human experience, not just for women, but for everyone. The conversation needs to shift to show what masculine strength can really look like. Or, as Ryan Clark put it: “Needing something and admitting to it is a sign of bravery, not weakness.”
If you or someone you know are having thoughts of suicide, don’t remain silent. Talk to someone you can trust through the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Call or text 988 or chat with the lifeline.