It started with a couple of childhood ventures around the neighborhood in Gaithersburg, MD.
“We used to set up lemonade stands when we were younger and we’d shovel snow off our neighbors’ driveways for 20 bucks a pop,” Paul Rabil says. “I think our Lebanese bloodline contributes to the entrepreneurship that we have.”
That same industrial spirit has given the United States its newest sports league.
Rabil, the professional lacrosse player who’s widely considered the best in the sport, just launched the Premier Lacrosse League (or PLL) with his older brother Mike.
This comes after an 11-year professional career with Major League Lacrosse and the National Lacrosse League. With the MLL, Rabil won two national championships and is the league's all-time leading scorer. In the winter indoor NLL, Rabil was selected to the All-Star game in all five seasons he played.
Now he’s competing with those leagues.
Rabil calls his entrepreneurial nature “innate.” But it’s also a necessity in a sport where the average salary ranges from $6,000 to $25,000.
“Originally it was very part-time,” Rabil says. “You’re kinda thrown into the lion’s den to figure out ways to create additional revenue.”
As co-founder and chief strategy officer of PLL, Rabil attends four or five meetings per day, in which he oversees media strategy, corporate partnerships and lacrosse play on the field.
And that’s after almost three hours of training and physical therapy in the morning.
Yup, Rabil plays in the PLL, too.
“It’s difficult to operate this thing and play,” Rabil says. “More difficult than I had thought originally. But it’s also exhilarating.”
A midfielder for Atlas LC, Rabil starts his workday around 7:30 am. He doesn’t leave the office until 10 p.m.
Believe it or not, he does indeed sleep.
“I’ve struggled getting eight [hours of sleep], but I get a minimum of seven,” Rabil says with a laugh. “That’s been a target of mine.”
If he’s tired, he hides it well. The 33-year-old is on the field, shouting commands and rallying cries of “Let’s go! Let’s go!” to his teammates during Friday night’s weekly practice at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C.
The PLL is unlike any other professional sports league in the country.
The league’s six teams are not geographically-based and instead tour around the U.S. for 14 weekends.
Players are mic'd up for in-game interviews, providing immediate reactions to goals and missed plays.
The PLL more than doubled players’ salaries and gives them equity in the league.
And, it signed a media rights deal with NBC Sports.
Rabil – who has become known as the first “million-dollar man” in the sport – said these moves were table stakes.
“We’re not building the Premier Lacrosse League in 1909,” he says. “We’re building it in 2019.”
While innovation is certainly involved, the reason for watching is much simpler: PLL has poached the best talent from other professional lacrosse leagues.
“It’s much different than perhaps other emerging leagues that don’t have best-in-class,” Rabil says. “People watch the NFL, the NBA, the NHL because they know they’re watching the best players in the world compete.”
It wasn’t hard to find his 140 players. In fact, there was so much interest in PLL, Rabil eventually had to cap off the number of athletes at tryouts.
Bill Belichick watched from the sidelines during the league’s inaugural games at Gillette Stadium in Boston on June 1.
The New England Patriots coach is one of Rabil’s mentors, along with NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
“Coach [Belichick] grew up playing lacrosse. He grew up in Annapolis and he loves the game,” Rabil says. “He’s tried to pull me away from my Redskins fandom over to the Patriots.”
The duo met when Rabil was a student at Johns Hopkins University in the mid-2000s. They discuss everything from competitive spirit in the NFL to the treatment of players and front office operations.
“He’s one of the smartest minds, if not the sharpest, in sports history,” Rabil says.
Rabil’s novel ideas go beyond the play on the field: “Lax bro culture” is out the door.
“It’s something that I’ve always been up against,” he says.
As a rookie and No. 1 draft pick in 2008, he didn’t like being perceived as a lax bro. He felt most consumers saw the part-time nature of the game as a reason to take it less seriously.
“It’s had its reputation tarnished over the last couple of decades,” Rabil says. “So what we’ve done out of the gates is, not only establish this cut-throat, serious, competitive, high-spirited atmosphere, but also tell the stories of our athletes, which is very diversified.”
Phasing out the lax bro stereotype goes deeper than personal pride. Rabil wants to pay tribute to the sport’s Native American roots.
“It’s not a white-collar, northeast preparatory school sport,” he says. “We see lacrosse being played all over the country now.”
Part of Rabil’s vision includes the PLL Assists program, the 501 (c)(3) nonprofit connected with the league.
The charitable organization works with heritage programs in Washington, D.C. like the Tewaaraton Award, which is the annual award given to the best NCAA lacrosse player. “Tewaaraton” is the Mohawk name for the sport.
Rabil also hopes to work directly with existing Native American reservations by helping with resources and sharing the members’ message.
“History is super important because that’s a product of understanding how you got here,” Rabil says. “To pay the right homage to the history of the sport is, I think, bestowed upon any operating regime to do that well.”
Week 6 of the PLL’s 14-week tour kicks off at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. this weekend.
Saturday’s doubleheader starts with Redwoods LC taking on Archers LC at 5 p.m. Whipsnakes LC versus Atlas LC begins after the conclusion of the first game. Sunday’s matchup between Chaos LC and Chrome LC starts at 3 p.m.