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Paul Rabil brings lacrosse to DC with new league

Paul Rabil brings lacrosse to DC with new league

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.

Mystics semifinals opponents to get travel help from league

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Mystics semifinals opponents to get travel help from league

The start of the Mystics' first playoff series won't be marred by the semi-regular travel woes that plague the league's players during the regular season. 

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced on Sunday that the league will cover the cost of charter flights for Connecticut and Washington's opponents in both Game Ones in the semifinals round of the WNBA playoffs.

“With both second-round WNBA playoff games taking place in the Pacific Time Zone on Sunday and WNBA semifinals set to tip-off on Tuesday in Connecticut and Washington, D.C., the league has arranged and will cover costs for charter flights for the winners of Sunday’s games," she said in a statement released by the league. "We believe it is in the best interest of the players to provide them with an opportunity to arrive expeditiously in the city of the first game of the WNBA semifinals and have a full day on-site to practice, rest and prepare.”

WNBA players, who fly commercial flights, have often voiced concern about their travel arrangements.

Earlier this season, Elena Delle Donne wrote on Instagram that she was "sick of" taking commercial flights cross-country, citing a fellow passenger's derogatory remarks made while the Mystics were on a flight to Las Vegas. In 2018, the Mystics game against the Aces was canceled after the Las Vegas-based team's travel woes resulted in them traveling for reportedly 24 hours and arriving only a few hours before game time. 

The issue also was one of the central points in WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike's essay on The Player's Tribune in 2018 after players opted out of their CBA. Players have to renegotiate a deal before the 2020 season.

"This is not purely about salaries. This is about small changes the league can make that will impact the players," she said in the essay. "This is about a six-foot-nine superstar taking a red-eye cross-country and having to sit in an economy seat instead of an exit row. Often with delays. Imagine the last time you took a red-eye business trip and you sat in the middle seat with your knees all cramped up, and how shook you were for that entire rest of the day."

The top-seeded Mystics, who clinched a double-bye to the semifinals, start their postseason on Tuesday at home. 

MORE MYSTICS NEWS:

 

Beyond the Scoreboard: HBO teaming up with Belichick and Saban

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Beyond the Scoreboard: HBO teaming up with Belichick and Saban

By Rick Horrow

Podcast edited by Tanner Simkins

LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST HERE

  • From an agency perspective, the NFL is moving in the right direction. Rick recently sat down with Arnold Wright, Executive Vice President and co-head of consulting for Octagon. Wright brings NFL team, league, and player deals to life for sponsors including Castrol, Delta, Bank of America, and others. “The league is obviously an incredible platform that leaps up year to year in terms of ratings and engagement,” Wright said. “The on field action is also as good as it’s ever been.” From a global perspective, Wright says, “The international piece in particular has been great for the league. You continue to see key markets like the UK, Mexico, and even Brazil growing internationally. It’s bringing other brands into the NFL ecosystem from a partner and promotional perspective.” As for the NFL’s 100th season platform, Wright says, “The league has done a lot of really great work in terms of positioning themselves, celebrating the history of the league from a player and a fan perspective. They have demonstrated a real savviness around their marketing and their connectivity to fans. The league several years ago probably would not have demonstrated that level of flexibility in terms of their marketing and what you could do with their platforms. But that’s certainly changed.”
    • YouTube stars Logan Paul and KSI will make their professional boxing debut. Last year, the two online sensations faced each other in an exhibition fight that generated more than 1 million pay-per-view buys on YouTube. Now they will fight each other again – this time, in an official professional fight at in Logan’s hometown of Los Angeles at Staples Center on November 9. According to ESPN, the event will be a six-round cruiserweight fight streamed on DAZN and is sure to pack the house after last year’s sold out 57-57 majority draw that happened at Manchester Arena in KSI’s hometown of Manchester, England. They are both now professional boxers, have passed their required medical exams, and will meet at a launch news conference in Los Angeles on September 14, with another news conference to be scheduled in the United Kingdom. KSI and Paul have more than 40 million YouTube subscribers between them and should bring tons of new fans to the sport of boxing, while the sport’s traditional enthusiasts can relish undercard events that will feature an assortment of more established fighters in the boxing world.
    • HBO Sports and NFL Films are teaming on Belichick & Saban: The Art of Coaching, a feature-length film about the four-decade friendship between football coaches Bill Belichick and Nick Saban. According to Cynopsis Sports, the pair grant unprecedented camera access to their annual coaching retreat, where they share conversation about their interwoven history, admiration, coaching philosophies, and more. “Bill Belichick and Nick Saban have become the modern versions of Vince Lombardi and John Wooden – symbols of success not just in sports but in life,” said Ross Ketover, Chief Executive of NFL Films. “Their lessons on leadership are an inspiration; not just for those of us who love football but for anyone who wants to thrive at whatever passion they pursue.” The film is slated air in December on HBO. Belichick and Saban have both started their 2019 campaigns off with a bang, as Alabama handily won its first two games and the Patriots obliterated the Steelers 33-3 on Sunday night.