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Can Lacrosse Work As a Professional lacrosse articles 2019 Sport
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Can Lacrosse Work As a Professional lacrosse articles 2019 Sport
Rabil takes a shot during the 2015 MLL Championship, when he was a member of the New York Lizards Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images The Rabils felt they would be too “handcuffed” as MLL owners, so they looked into what it might take to buy the whole league. They gathered indications of interest from outside investors in 2017 and even putting together a formal term sheet, which Rabil says the league never responded to. By the time Dave Gross, the first and only MLL commissioner until that point, stepped down in 2018 and was replaced by Alexander “Sandy” Brown, formerly of Univision and ESPN, the Rabils had already made up their minds about going a new route. “He didn’t want to be part of an org chart,” Brown later told Yahoo about Rabil , and when we speak in January, Brown projects a business-as-usual front in the face of an objectively unusual situation. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” Brown says. “It just expands the narrative of our sport. I have my own business to run.” Crushed by a silver medal at the 2014 World Lacrosse Championships, where a Team USA squad considered the “best team ever” lost at home to Canada, he asked his agents at CAA to recommend a sports psychologist, and began seeing a personal therapist, too, a move he calls “transformative.” On a 2018 podcast hosted by self-described “modern philosopher” Aubrey Marcus and titled “Victory and Vulnerability,” Rabil discussed how sports build character until you get too good at them, at which point they start to erode healthy feedback channels and personal growth. “Someone’s always on your heels,” he said. “The notion that, like, you can never back down from anything or anyone—that stuff gets celebrated.” Founding a new pro lax league might seem like an inefficient solution for someone seeking to diversify his self-identity beyond laxer. But Rabil envisions a league that is a platform for both athletic achievement and the sort of candid personal expression that he champions. “If you’re a legacy business and there’s multiple layers, and there’s like a series of approvals you have to get to make any decision,” says Mike Rabil, “it’s harder to test things out. Decisions take longer to make. You have too many voices in the room often.” Still, being new and nimble doesn’t preclude running smack into disaster. This spring, while the Rabils were just a couple of months away from the launch of the PLL, another fresh-faced league backed by years of industry experience and millions of dollars in high-profile connections arrived and imploded in spectacular fashion . The Alliance of American Football toyed with experimental rules changes in interesting ways, sold a healthy number of season tickets, drew impressive TV ratings—and went bankrupt within two months of its opening game. While certain colleges—Syracuse; Princeton; Rabil’s alma mater, Johns Hopkins—had been lax factories for years, the MLL emerged when the sport was beginning to see more formalization on the national level. US Lacrosse, the sport’s current organizing body, was founded in 1998 and reported $20 million in revenue last year. Men’s and women’s lacrosse has spread its footprint as more and more programs are established across the country, particularly at the collegiate level. Just over 250,000 people played organized lacrosse in 2001, according to US Lacrosse; in 2018, the number was nearly 830,000. The PLL investors who have been announced over the past year are a who’s who of tapped-in sports and entertainment figures. A recent round of funding was led by the investment arm of Alibaba executive, Brooklyn Nets owner, and former Yale lacrosse player Joe Tsai, who also owns an NLL . Earlier investments in the fledgling enterprise have come from shops like the Raine Group, which has stakes in companies like DraftKings and helped execute Steve Ballmer’s purchase of the Clippers; the Chernin Group, a huge backer of Barstool run by a former News Corp executive; and the mega-agency CAA. An earlier version of this piece misstated the number of points Paul Rabil has through four games. In four games, Rabil has three goals, and seven points overall. Ringer illustration Share this story Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share All sharing options Share All sharing options for: Can Lacrosse Work As a Professional Sport? Flipboard Email Paul Rabil is proudly fluent in the languages of lacrosse, startup life, and therapy, and on a chilly January morning in Connecticut he is speaking all three at once. Rabil sits at a table at NBC Sports headquarters, in a conference room named after the Torino Olympics, imploring about a dozen dudes—TV executives, content farmers, a fellow niche athlete, a consultant or two—to avoid operating “from a defensive position” now and in the future. His laptop is open, and a custom Bitmoji sticker of himself on the back of it waves a little lacrosse stick triumphantly toward everyone else in the room. “The defensive position,” repeats Rabil, “is, like: What about the 1 percent of rabid lacrosse fans? Are they going to get ticked off? ” “I remember people being like, you could never make a million dollars off lacrosse,” says Pat Young, a 25-year-old midfielder, “and then someone being like, well, Paul did it.” If anything, the very struggle for more attention has equipped many players to earn it. “These guys are entrepreneurs,” says Mike of the players. “They’re trying to make rent and they’re running camps and they’re showing up and busting their butts on the field and doing, like, speaking appearances and, like, reading books and trying to get better.” When he puts it that way, it all sounds a little familiar. “I do think it had a small market ripple impact,” Rabil says. “The same sponsors that we were talking to at the time when that announced asked us—and I think fairly asked us—about our funding.” This didn’t faze the Rabils much, because by that time they had spent the better part of a year answering such inquiries over and over anyway, “because we’re building a new pro league from scratch,” Rabil says. “We’re going after net new fans,” Rabil says to the room, “and we should always be thinking more offensively.” Given the collective experience of some of the others around the table, he is sitting in the right place. Dan Steir, a senior VP at NBC Sports, is an industry veteran who compares working on the lacrosse project to the good old days of putting together the first X Games for ESPN in 1995. Paul Burmeister, part of the crew broadcasting PLL games for NBC Sports, has covered events from the Tour de France to the Olympics. Even Jon Miller, the network poobah who dips in and out of the meeting only briefly, has the jolly, you-do-you air of a guy up for whatever and all about trying something new. This is a group that understands the wide world of small-scale sports, the push and pull between pandering to and honoring both longtime loyal and newly clueless customers. These stories can be spun into a romantic notion that these guys are just out there tossin’ the ol’ ball around not for the money, but for the love of the sport, and in some cases they are, and that’s fine. But that mentality when universally applied puts a low ceiling on potential. Who knows how much better the talent pool, current and aspiring alike, might be if everyone weren’t constantly dealing with the irritating, corrosive logistics of the weekend-warrior lifestyle? Before the second week of PLL play, Rabil visited the New York Mets to drum up some local interest, and rookie stud Pete Alonso, who grew up playing lacrosse in Florida, asked him if they could have a quick toss. “The reason why he didn’t pursue lacrosse in college is that the pro game wasn’t exciting for him,” Rabil says. “The next Pete Alonso may play in the PLL.” Chris Hogan, a former New England Patriot who once stated his alma mater on a Sunday Night Football broadcast as “Penn State lacrosse,” has invested and engaged as well. And Hogan’s previous coach, Bill Belichick, is an old lacrosse head: He played at Andover and Wesleyan; his daughter is the head women’s coach at Holy Cross, and he knew about Rabil back in his Johns Hopkins days. Since then, he’s been a vocal advocate of and mentor to Rabil and was even the first guest on his podcast, Suiting Up . “Paul is one of the most passionate, energetic people I know,” Belichick writes in an email. “As a businessman, philanthropist and leader, he attacks every day with the same relentlessness, curiosity and purpose that took him to the pinnacle of his sport.” For all the goals and saves and two-point shots, though, the most talked-about moment of Week 3 is a nasty fight that includes a bearlike tackle, a guy named Blaze Riorden, and a heavy punch to a helmeted head. The PLL’s video team sprints, possibly literally , to upload gorgeously shot fisticuffs footage onto its various social media channels for maximum reach. “They are throwing hands in the PLL?” tweets Barstool Sports. “Sport of the future confirmed.” A Chicago Bulls player expresses his approval . But not everyone is quite so amped. “I suppose we should have seen this coming,” blogs Dan Arestia , a lacrosse writer and former coach. “Can’t we give the game a chance to hook people, rather than fights?” In November, the International Olympic Committee decided to grant “provisional recognition” of lacrosse as a thing that exists in the world, a designation viewed as a first step in the long march toward becoming an actual sport at the Games. “The fact that it was accepted into the Olympics by the IOC shortly after we made our deal was completely coincidental,” says Miller of NBC, which holds Olympic broadcasting rights. “But I will tell you that in 2009 when golf and rugby got into the Olympics, we had already laid the seeds with both of those sports.” It may end up being the Olympics, more so than any new league, that brings about fundamental changes to lacrosse. Even so, the Rabils are positioned to have as influential a voice as anyone while the sport defines its future. “You hear people say all the time, ‘Oh, we’re trying to grow the game,’” says Morrow. “That just means, ‘I’m trying to figure out a way to make money.’” The PLL’s gamble is that both can be true. The Premier Lacrosse League—founded by star player Paul Rabil and his brother, Mike—wants to make the club-dominated sport into a moneymaking phenomenon. Does the world need more lax bros? And can the U.S. support another professional sports league? A couple of Rabil fans look on at LaxCon Katie Baker There is a quite frankly disappointing lack of lax bros at LaxCon, even though there are many people around. In fairness, the descriptor has long been rendered essentially meaningless via sweeping overuse, in much the same vein as “hipster” or “troll.” What even is a lax bro? Are we talking the lacrosse Spicolis of the world, with their chill vibes and their jam bands, or do we mean the guys who wear mesh pinneys and Chubbies in public and yell “Suns out guns out!!!” in your face? Either is a far cry from the conference’s median attendees: shy little hypebeasty tweens wearing rad kicks and jogger sweats who mob Rabil when he walks by. But for years the MLL has been beset by instability, and, increasingly, by public dissatisfaction among players. Last season, average attendance across the nine teams was less than 4,000—a number boosted by the outlier Denver Outlaws, who draw a lack of showers . A 2014 article described the Charlotte Hounds as practicing on a high school field in the rain . In 2017, the league emailed all its current and former players to let them know that due to a “data incident,” an unencrypted spreadsheet containing personal information—from their Social Security numbers to their non-MLL occupations—had been made publicly available for some period of time. Also in 2017, the former owner of the Atlanta Blaze sued the league ; the case was settled out of court. And multiple claims currently before the National Labor Relations Board assert that the MLL player contracts and handbook contain shady provisions. “The number one illegality in the contract was that it prohibited them from speaking to other players about what they’re getting paid,” says Buffalo-based attorney Richard Furlong, who is representing several players. And the reason so many players were able to leave en masse for the new league was that it was so rare to sign a multiyear MLL contract to begin with. To differentiate the PLL from its predecessor and to capture a younger viewer, the league is tinkering with its structure and presentation. The lengths of both the games and the fields are shorter. The coaches get bonuses for each win and are encouraged to talk shit. The uniforms, made by Adidas and inspired by eminently wearable soccer kits, are a departure from the baggy crop tops of lacrosse past. In probably the most drastic change from a traditional sports league, the six lacrosse clubs also aren’t associated with cities, instead operating as untethered brands. Rabil plays for Atlas LC, which according to its official motto is “built of power and authority.” Schreiber is on Archers LC: “built of precision and craft.” The entire Los Angeles–based league goes on tour every week, eventually visiting 12 cities, from Baltimore to San Jose, for three-game, festival-style weekends that involve food carts and youth clinics and allow the PLL to book decent venues, many of them home to MLS teams. NBC Sports is airing all 39 PLL games throughout the summer, 16 of them nationally on NBCSN, three on “big NBC,” and the rest on a streaming subscription app called NBC Sports Gold, a level of exposure that lacrosse has typically lacked. The project is part startup, part entertainment business, and part laboratory experiment, and it will almost certainly be a business school case study one day. Tyler Steinhardt, a PLL content producer and one of Rabil’s most omnipresent and essential sidekicks, speaks up. “Myles is going to be humble, so I’m giving you the context,” he says. “This guy almost played hoops at Duke. It’s like, he’s a different level of an athlete.” It’s true: Checking out Jones’s highlights is a delightful viewing experience. He steamrolls and punishes, looking like a balletic linebacker crossed with the NFL on Fox robot. He has already self-branded his upcoming PLL campaign as #ScarySZN, a gimmick everyone in the room loves. This spring, he’ll be raising his profile further with an analyst side gig on ESPN. On the field, the games have been of indisputably high quality so far, showcasing the potent offensive weapons on each team and the stubborn, vicious defensemen. Defending the weekend’s physicality, Joe Walters, who plays attack on Redwoods LC wrote on Twitter : “I tell you what. With wages increased 3 or 4 times and roster spots being super competitive, I’d say guys might care a little more.” Rabil, who has three goals through four games, agrees that the higher salaries and higher stakes have led everyone to level up their play; he likens it to the competition at the tryouts for Team USA. He has added an additional shooting session every day at sunset to his already packed daily schedule. Can Lacrosse Work As a Professional lacrosse articles 2019 Sport
Can Lacrosse Work As a Professional lacrosse articles 2019 Sport
There are the big-picture conversations: What is the new league’s story, and how should that story be told in order to compel the most people to watch? Rabil, who sometimes sounds like a sentient pitch deck, has a three-part answer to this. The first is boilerplate, something about sports bringing people together. The second is that the Premier Lacrosse League is particularly relevant because it is disruptive. Startup culture “has never been hotter since, like, the modern Shark Tank era,” Rabil says, moving on to his third point. “And then, a cohort of people breaking off from the establishment and doing something new, I think hits on a number of levels,” he says, “whether it’s, like, a connection politically, or religiously, or any type of social norm that was archaic.” Young fans with Myles Jones Katie Baker In a 17th-floor hotel room in downtown Philadelphia in January, a few blocks away from an annual industry expo called LaxCon, 25-year-old Myles Jones does Fortnite dances for the camera. At a broad-shouldered 6-foot-5, sporting an Odell Beckham Jr. hairstyle and a pair of Pharrell Williams x Adidas Solar Hu Glides, Jones is the answer to the hopeful question that is always asked when it comes to niche sports: “What if all the best athletes played this one?” Growing up on Long Island, Jones played quarterback in football and center in basketball, loved Vince Carter, and got into lacrosse because it’s what all his friends and teammates did in the spring. “It’s a tough sport to just pick up,” he says. “Quite frankly, I stunk.” The only bummer has been in-person attendance, which so far has been in the low five figures per each three-game weekend. It was cool to play the opening weekend in mighty Gillette Stadium, but the size of the venue was always going to be impossible to even begin to fill. Week 2, held at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey, coincided with state club lacrosse championships on Long Island and in New Jersey. Turnout in Chicago, on a rainy weekend, exceeded what a former local MLL team used to get, but “it requires us to scratch and claw,” Rabil says. Last Saturday the league sold out an evening game at the 8,500-seat Homewood Stadium in Baltimore, where Rabil played in college. But it’s a work in progress. Recently, lacrosse articles 2019 the league’s Twitter account offered two free tickets to any PLL game to anyone who got a bar or restaurant to turn their TV to the lacrosse broadcast and tweet a picture of it. With less than six months until the league’s inaugural game on June 1, there is a lot of ground to cover between the Premier Lacrosse League and its new broadcast partner on this winter day. There are the logistical and operational considerations, from sky cams to score bugs to the color of the ball itself. There are conversations to be had about innovation and rules changes, and about Rabil’s desire to outfit helmets with speakers and mics and interview a goaltender, live and in-game, even if he’s just been scored on—actually, especially if he’s just been scored on. There are many question marks and fill-in-the-blanks and uses of the word “iterate” by a beard-stroking Rabil, and there is the occasional gentle pushback from the more midlevel production types in the room who will actually be tasked with executing ideas. He and his brother opened a location of a gym franchise, then seven of them, then added spin and yoga to their holdings. This was during the recession, and despite their cash flow they had trouble acquiring debt, so in 2011 they started a company focused on lending to small businesses like theirs, and soon Mike had sold that company and moved to the Bay Area to work for the acquirer. It was around then that Paul launched a subscription-based instructional video platform, called The Paul Rabil Experience, for which he recorded some 350 teaching videos and charged six bucks a month. He took online Skillshare classes about cinematography and acting. He paid his way to both South by Southwest and the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference as an attendee. And as Rabil demonstrated spin dodges on phone screens and chatted about cultivating engagement on social and racked up the points in the MLL, he also turned his progressive restlessness inward. “Like moths to a flame,” someone remarks as Rabil walks across the convention center floor toward a turf field where he is scheduled to put on a shooting demo and is immediately encircled by the enchanted. “Like Bird Box ,” someone else says. Rabil is a big dude, 6-foot-3 with broad shoulders that look like their own set of padding. But for all his size and strength, the moment he wields a lacrosse stick he turns into Tinker Bell flourishing a wand. In his hands, the equipment looks delicate and potent, divinely inspired, basically trailing sparkles. When he asks the crowd for volunteers to help him warm up, about a hundred skinny arms shoot toward the sky. According to annual data compiled by US Lacrosse, overall participation in organized lacrosse has increased through 2018, but the rate of growth in recent years has slowed almost to a halt. As in other youth sports, the rise of traveling club teams at the expense of more accessible and less intense recreational programs has been a headwind; Rabil recently tweeted a Utah State study that identified lacrosse as among the priciest club programs for kids at upward of $7,000 per year. But there are problems endemic to the sport itself too. The equipment is finicky: sticks need to be broken in and maintained and nurtured and fiddled with and optimized and strung and restrung. The faceoffs take too long. The constant substitutions are confusing. And why are the men’s and women’s games so different, right down to the stick? He has also kept up an appointment that to him is nonnegotiable: meetings with his therapist in Bethesda, which he does by video chat. She doesn’t know a thing about lacrosse, and he likes it that way. “It’s not really impactful for me to talk about dodges or missed shots,” he says. “We talk more about, like, the shame of not playing well, and that has nothing to do with the score or even the activity. It’s just, like, shame.” When Riorden later tweets about the incident , it appears that the league might be trying to navigate the line between drawing in new fans and alienating old ones, between appealing to both impressionable young kids but also to the vast universe of semi-interested channel changers. It becomes increasingly clear that the PLL doesn’t hate the chaos, however: Rabil retweets the Barstool account, and later, when he goes to a wrestling match, tweets: “Fighting. Love it.” When the league releases a slow-mo, mic’d-up edit of the whole thing, featuring combatants, coaches, and officials alike, it is brutal and funny and insider-y and unique, the very viewing experience the league is going for. Still, in a post-CTE world where even the NHL has tried to downplay fighting, it feels more like a cool new spin on an outdated concept and less like a true testament to the sport of the future. In a span of less than 48 hours, Rabil travels by train to three cities. Trying to outcompete a “Don’t Walk” signal in Philadelphia, he is almost hit by a bus. He shoots a video for PLL’s social media, an end-of-a-long-day slog that at one point prompts him to say to Steinhardt, in restrained frustration: “I think we are misaligned right now.” He meets with the brothers behind Vineyard Vines. A Calvin Klein photo shoot in Queens gets rescheduled. He eats a bowl of sweet potatoes and chicken during a “screen share” with the design company behind the new PLL team logos, saying things like “the skull is über-millennial, which plays well with our audience” between bites. He chats with me for an hour at a midtown Manhattan coworking space where the conference room assigned to us turns out to be a “meditation room” containing only a hammock. We sit elsewhere. It is both energizing and exhausting to be around him, and when I ask when was the last time that Rabil picked up a stick, he has to think about it. “A few weeks ago?” he guesses. “Don’t print that.” “Bring it!” Rabil yells. “We need that!” In college lacrosse, he says, players are conditioned to be too respectful, to swallow their competitive bile. But he would rather “reengineer the mind of the athlete” back toward having no filter and no fear, both to showcase the rough, rugged glories of lacrosse, and because mercenaries make for good memes. “That’s how you build modern rivalry,” says Rabil, who in his ambitious new role at the center of lacrosse’s biggest schism stands to become an expert in the field. Since Brown’s hire, the MLL has redesigned its logo, raised its salary cap by 51 percent, added roster spots, expanded its schedule, beefed up its grassroots outreach, and started signing broadcast deals with local networks and international streaming providers. In April, the league halted operation of three of its nine teams. “That will affect him for the rest of his life,” she says, urgently, “not just on the lacrosse field.” Next to her, a gawky tween turns red, and in a way, of all the things Rabil has built and all the influences he has had, it’s this real, raw connection that feels most like the sport of the future. But when I speak by phone with Dave Morrow, the founder of Warrior Sports and one of the original guys behind the MLL, he doesn’t quite agree about the state of the game. “There’s not enough people scratching their heads and saying, ‘Houston, we have a problem,’” says Morrow, who in 1992 won a national championship at Princeton. His default email signature file may say “Dominate ,” but his words have a different tone.
Rabil signs autographs before a match between Archers LC and Chrome LC at Gillette Stadium on June 1 Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports Three weeks into the PLL’s rookie season, the league has already seen promising trends in several of their revenue streams. Merch sales have been “through the roof,” Steinhardt says, with some jerseys sold out until July; Rabil says that their projections have already been tripled. Subscriptions to the NBC Sports Gold lacrosse package, which for $40 gives viewers access to every PLL game beyond the nationally televised ones, have met goals established for the whole season just a few weeks in. “We’re super stoked about that,” Rabil says. Around the floor, there is a booth for just about anything lacrosse-adjacent. Comfy lounges invite consumer-athletes to hang out for a while and string up newly purchased sticks with newly purchased mesh. One vendor’s sign hawks a business dedicated solely to managing youth tournament travel logistics. Another one says: “Jewish Lacrosse Camp.” A teen and his dad demonstrate virtual reality goalie training software they have developed for the Oculus; the line to try it is long. There is no booth for Major League Lacrosse this year. I’ve been to this expo center before, for the Philadelphia Flower Show with my mother, and the two events have at least one thing in common: booths featuring different kinds of artificial turf that one can run a hand over and murmur “mmm, yes” about. Like any good industry expo, LaxCon is less a sick rager and more a celebration of highly specific nerdiness and capitalism. He is also a skilled vlogger: wide-eyed and gregarious, earnest and shameless in equal measure, with the kind of YouTube chops that turn a guy from just another laxer into an influential personal brand. He hates to be known as a “laxer”; he prefers “athlete” or “player.” When he appeared on the tech writer Kara Swisher’s podcast in 2018 , he bonded with her son, Louie, over their shared distaste of the canonical “lax bro.” When he was profiled by The New York Times in 2010 , it was on the cover of the Styles section, not the sports page. Two weeks ago, the league announced a new sponsor, Capital One, which placed a patch on Atlas LC’s jersey and will be organizing what Rabil calls “on-field assets and experiential marketing.” The production team has grown from two people in January to 12 now, and the league’s online engagement, when measured by interaction rates, exceeds that of MLS and of most Major League Baseball clubs. PLL Academy, the league’s youth development arm, recently signed a partnership with US Lacrosse. When Paul was drafted in 2008 by the Boston Cannons, it meant a rookie paycheck of $6,000 and the opportunity to become one more weekend warrior on the pro lacrosse summer circuit. He lived in his parents’ basement and worked at a real estate investment firm in Washington, D.C., where his boss let him take Fridays off to travel to games. But he also got his first endorsement deal, with Under Armour, which paid him 20 grand. He used this to move into his own place and start a lacrosse camp, which was a good business because people paid cash up front. Chrome LC plays against Redwoods LC in Baltimore in June Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images Rabil won two NCAA championships at Johns Hopkins and three at the professional level: two in the MLL, where he averaged more than four points a game, and one in the winter indoor National Lacrosse League. He has played on Team USA in the World Lacrosse Championships three times, winning gold twice. In 2009 at 111 miles per hour, a record at the time. In 2011, during an All-Star skills competition, he scored a goal after leaping over the hood of a car . He is the world’s most well-known lacrosse player, and yet it is almost certainly helpful to note that it’s pronounced “Ray-Bull.” Rabil loved WWE as a kid and loves the UFC now, digging their use of personality and narrative tension. He’s a sucker for filterless athletes: “Joel Embiid was the best thing to happen to the NBA,” he says at the NBC meeting. Sports has always been an entertainment business, but as players grow more confident telling their own stories and leagues increasingly resemble content companies, the lines are fuzzier than ever. The hotshot Overwatch esports league is owned by the video game behemoth Blizzard. The NBA offseason is as big a to-do as the playoffs. Colin Neville, a managing director at Raine Group, who played lacrosse at Yale and is on the PLL advisory board, says that when you add up the enterprise value of major sports franchises, their leagues start to rival the size and strength of media industry conglomerates like a CBS or a Viacom. A young Rabil and his sister with their Beanie Babies Courtesy the Rabil family A young power-collector Paul would call around to gas station marts and Hallmark stores, ask about new shipments, and have his mother, Jean, drive him and his little sister, Rebecca, to wherever had the most lucrative merch. His most precious assets were Princess, a bear honoring the memory of Diana, and Garcia, a tie-dyed bear released in unauthorized tribute to Jerry and then quickly retired after the Garcia family filed suit. His father, Allan, urged his son to unwind his holdings once he glimpsed a valuation almanac Paul owned. “ Ten thousand dollars’ worth of Beanie Babies?! ” says Paul, imitating his dad. “I was like, ‘It’s gonna be $200,000 in five years!’” The Beanie Babies remain stored at the Rabil house to this day. Kyle Harrison is a 36-year-old midfielder who has known Rabil since hosting him on an official visit at Johns Hopkins and who is now the PLL’s head of player relations. Known for a transformative, slashing style of play that drew inspiration from NBA stutter steps and crossovers, Harrison’s legend precedes him: Young says that he was “a nervous wreck” the first time he got to meet his idol. As one of the guys who was behind the LXM Pro Tour, Harrison is particularly sensitive to the challenges of straddling the field and the sideline, both for himself and for his longtime friend. “I am personally trying to make sure I stay laser-focused on making a distinct line between operator and player,” says Harrison, “and not be caught up in, like, the banners that are on the side.” Will Rabil—who was so nervous on the day the PLL launched in October that he passed out while getting a routine treatment on his back and woke up with an oxygen mask on his face—be able to do the same? “It’ll be tough for him,” Harrison says. These days, he’s just as likely to be found in the business section, having been profiled in Fast Company and interviewed on CNBC for his role in starting a new company, born out of his frustrations over the compensation and the conditions in the MLL. More than 150 athletes, including all but two members of Team USA, have signed on to play in the PLL, which in addition to higher salaries across the board offers health insurance and equity stakes. Some top names, like 26-year-old PLL financial analyst Tom Schreiber, are also full-time employees of the league. “I’ve had access to Google calendar now for seven months,” says Schreiber, who played at Princeton, might currently be the best player in the world, and sits quietly next to Rabil during the meeting at NBC Sports. “I don’t know how he has time to sleep.” The point of these productions is to enable players like Jones, or Young, or goalie Scott Rodgers to thrive both as professional athletes and as personal brands. Lacrosse’s default image as a bunch of “Chads and Brads” has yet to be effectively overwritten: When college lacrosse remains the de facto peak of the profession, after all, maybe it’s not much of a surprise that the sport maintains its fratastic vibe. “It’s hard when something means so much to you,” says Schreiber, “and it comes across as—I want to be careful how I say this—it comes across as not all that legitimate in the eyes of your peers.” The PLL’s goal is to treat its athletes like adults by paying them enough to not have to juggle side gigs, and by empowering them to do things like share game footage on their personal feeds. But “we’re not going to be a sport with a bunch of vloggers,” Rabil says; he has no interest in forcing anyone to suddenly become extremely online, and while he wants more players to be able to establish, define, and market themselves the way that he has, he also knows that not everyone is cut from his same frenetic cloth. Jones is one of several athletes who drop by this morning to be interviewed and videotaped and sliced and diced into shareable content by the PLL’s substantive in-house production team. The setup isn’t elaborate—a white backdrop and a halo light—and it was supposed to take place elsewhere, but the Airbnb that was rented for the occasion turned out to be seedier than expected. Still, judging by the players’ reactions, the small makeshift studio is a bigger deal than anything they are used to. Rabil skips into the room accompanied by 22-year-old Kylie Ohlmiller, who is the top player in the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League, a year-old organization that has recently partnered with the PLL to collaborate on youth initiatives, explore joint sponsorship opportunities, and occasionally share venues. He peers at a GIF of Young , who was here earlier. “Oh, see, I knew it was gonna be hot!” Rabil says, beaming like an embarrassing parent. The discussion eventually turns to the actual lacrosse. As a conversational jumping-off point, everyone watches the 2018 NCAA championship game between Duke and Yale on ESPN, the biggest lacrosse broadcast of that year. A mic’d-up ref chastises two jostling players on the screen, and someone murmurs: “Good use of audio on the faceoff.” The more raw audio and video footage the better, everyone agrees, though Steir warns that cameras in huddles and locker rooms carry inherent risks: of profanity, for one, and of bad-mouthing peers. What if someone is caught talking shit about Rabil, for example? The Punch. The Body Slam. The Player Reactions. The Referee Conversation. Watch it all: pic.twitter.com/rFnGBRSMEx As kids growing up in Maryland, the Rabil brothers were just smaller versions of what they are now: hyperdriven hustlers. They ran around playing football and baseball in the street, adding lacrosse to that list in middle school when the family moved to a slightly nicer place where neighbors had extra sticks on hand. Before long, the windows and shutters on the back of their family’s new home were toast. At the same time that Mike and Paul were demolishing family property, they were also focused on their own cash flow. “We were always shoveling driveways,” says Mike. “I worked construction in high school. I worked three years in a row at a Maggie Moo’s ice cream shop.” Paul had an additional obsession, one he believed was certain to pay off big: Beanie Babies. The NBC Sports gathering is one of those meetings where the point is to dream big now and figure out all the details later, and the 33-year-old Rabil prides himself on always doing both. It’s a useful quality, considering what he went and got himself into last October. After 11 seasons as an attacker for Major League Lacrosse—the now-18-year-old professional outdoor league where Rabil was drafted first overall in 2008, won two championships, set an all-time scoring record, made a name and some money, and eventually felt stifled and unheard—Rabil announced that he and his brother, Mike, would be building an entirely new operation, populated by nearly all the sport’s best players, called the Premier Lacrosse League. It was kind of as if LeBron James had taken his talents in-house and then brought the entire Banana Boat crew along with him. college lacrosse articles