Too Cool For School: 5 Reasons Mallory Pugh Needs a New Narrative

Kelley Piper

Sports media is a lot of things – inspiring, biased, challenging, thought provoking … I could go on. But every once in a while it is just plain repetitive. Case in point: Mallory Pugh. If you have watched a single match that Mallory Pugh has played in this season, whether it was for the Washington Spirit or for the U.S. Women’s National Team, I can pretty much guarantee that you heard about how the 19-year-old dropped out of UCLA to start her professional career before even playing a game for the Bruins. Sound familiar? Absolutely. And for some reason the media just cannot let go of this story line. I’ll be honest, I’m quite sick of it. And in my opinion, there is no longer a need for it.

So here it is – five reasons the media needs to find something else to talk about with regards to Mallory Pugh:

The Story’s Been Told

Sure, this story was pretty big when it came through. No one is denying that. But her decision to leave UCLA was made in April. It’s now August. How are we still having Lifetime pregame specials on this? Why does it have to be brought up by the commentators for every single match she has played in, both for club and country? The story keeps being told, but nothing is added to it. Day after day, match after match–by this point, the viewer could recite it themselves, it’s so overdone. Because after Mallory Pugh decided to begin her pro career that was it. That is the end of the story. It has nothing to build upon. But somehow, every week, the audience sits down in front of their TV or computer screen and are reminded for the fiftieth time that Pugh decided to leave college. And I know, at least for me, every time I care a little bit less.

She Made An Adult Decision

Part of the reason that the media can’t let this go is that Pugh is so young. Still in her teenage years but playing at the level of women in their athletic prime. And the media likes to slightly hint toward her potential naivety every time the narrative is told. Have you ever noticed how many times her age is commented on? I bet you will now. But the thing that everyone fails to notice is that the decision that she made, whether she was naive or not, was an adult decision. An adult decision that she couldn’t take back even if she wanted to. She chose what she wanted her career to be. She chose how she wanted to start it. Just like every other kid that goes to college and declares a major, or decides to enlist in the military, or drops out and decides that maybe trade school is a better fit for them. But no matter what, in all of those instances, including Pugh’s, an adult decision is made. And we never second-guess anyone else to the level that the media has seemed to second-guess Pugh. But thankfully, it doesn’t seem that Pugh has second-guessed herself, or her decision.

She Plays At A Professional Level

Along with her adult decision came adult consequences. If she was going to start her professional career then she was going to have to play at a professional level. And that is exactly what she did. And the fact that she knew with full confidence that she could succeed in doing so obviously helped her in deciding that this is was the right path for her. Mallory Pugh is better than what her NCAA competition would have been. Substantially better. It’s why she got to play with the USWNT at 17 years of age. It’s why backlines always keep an eye out for her when she is on the pitch. Because she is good. And if she keeps playing and progressing at the level that she has been then one day she will be great. She could even be the next gold standard for what U.S. Women’s Soccer should be. But somehow the media are still obsessed with the fact that she decided to leave a system that grooms players into professional athletes, to be the powerhouse professional athlete that she already was.

No One Else Is Talking About It

The media may drag this out for the rest of the season but the players and coaches could seem to care less. They do care that they now have to defender her, but her decision to leave college to go pro probably isn’t keeping them up at nights. And that seems to be the status quo around the league. They don’t comment on Pugh as this rebellious college dropout that has bit off more than she can chew. They regard her, and they prepare for her, as the threat that she is in the attacking half. But sadly, Pugh has to talk about it, because it seems to be the only thing she is questioned about these days. And she has handled it like a professional athlete too. She hasn’t given the media a sound bite they could exploit yet. But she has revealed that she spoke with Jill Ellis before making her decision. Ellis’ response–she would support Pugh’s decision no matter what. Wouldn’t it be nice if the media could do that too?

There Are So Many Other Stories

Mallory Pugh could one day be the best female player in the world. She is that good. So why aren’t we talking about that? There are so many things that could be written about her. She is such a dynamic player, and that is why the repetitiveness of this narrative so infuriating. The media isn’t on a shortage of material with regards to this woman. They could write a different story about her every day of the year and not hit a repeat. But still, soccer fans have to sit there, week after week (including international breaks), and hear about how 19-year-old Mallory Pugh decided to leave UCLA and begin her professional career.

This is the last that you will hear from me on this matter. Because ironically, this article defeats its own purpose. It talks about the one thing that it wishes wasn’t talked about. So I suppose this is more of a plea. A request that this be the end of this narrative. That we can close the book and put it back on the shelf, only to be revisited years from now when Pugh has been put her mark on the sport. And hopefully, if the U.S. fans are lucky enough, she will play the beautiful game in such a way that she begins her own narrative. One that she controls. And one that is just as dynamic as the player she is.

Image courtesy of Kelley Piper
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