Longtime men's lacrosse player Paul Rabil retires at 35, will still lead Premier Lacrosse League

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WASHINGTON — Longtime men's lacrosse player Paul Rabil, 35, is retiring from playing the sport he helped usher into its modern form.

Alongside his brother, Mike, Rabil cofounded the Premier Lacrosse League, which merged with Major League Lacrosse to become the top professional men's league in the sport.

"Today, it comes with unending gratitude and the heaviest of hearts that I'll be retiring from professional lacrosse," Rabil said at Audi Field on Tuesday.

Rabil most recently played for the Cannons Lacrosse Club in the PLL and played for the New York Lizards and the Boston Cannons in the MLL.

Rabil established himself as a high school phenom at DeMatha Catholic (Maryland) and played collegiately at Johns Hopkins University. There, Rabil won two national championships (2005, 2007).

The Cannons selected him first overall in the 2008 MLL draft, and he was named the 2009 league MVP, an award he won again two years later. Rabil made 10 straight All-Star games (2008-17) and was on two MLL championship teams. He played with a chip on his shoulder, motivated by avoiding the pain of losing.

"They would feel like a dagger to my body," Rabil said in his speech before friends and family. "The wins felt less rewarding.

"It took me a long time to realize this. It was never about the outcome. It was about the game. The game is meant to be played. Not won."

Paul Rabil of the Boston Cannons takes a shot before scoring in the first half against the Charlotte Hounds during the game at Harvard Stadium on May 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Paul Rabil of the Boston Cannons takes a shot before scoring in the first half against the Charlotte Hounds during the game at Harvard Stadium on May 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.

The 35-year-old earned a full-time living by playing professionally (through many endorsements) and started the PLL with that goal for all players, giving them equity in the league.

Rabil compared drew a parallel between the PLL's current standing and NFL players in the 1950s.

"I think we're in the same place. And our players have ownership," he said.

Debuting in 2019, the PLL merged with the MLL in December 2020 and is completing its first season this weekend. Investors include Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai and The Chernin Group. Rabil is satisfied with progress and anticipates a continued rise in popularity among sports fans, using social media and other engagement methods, such as brand partnerships (Barstool Sports, for example).

In his retirement speech, Rabil referenced the younger generation of stars to whom he is prepared to cede the spotlight.

"I've never played against this much talent on the field in my life," Rabil said. "The game's stars are the best the game's ever had."

Rabil announced his first post-play initiative, Goals for Greatness, which will start next year and secures lacrosse goals for those who want to play in all 50 states.

"As a player, it's hard to get access to goals, which is a huge part of the learning experience and the experience of having fun," Rabil told USA TODAY Sports. "Two, the visual continuity, imagine if he would get lacrosse goals at every park and rec field like you see hoops, tennis courts and baseball diamonds."

He hopes that lacrosse will be make the Olympic at Los Angeles 2028 and plans to grow the Goals for Greatness program internationally in 2023 with the help of the International Olympic Committee, which granted full recognition of the sport's international governing body (Federation of International Lacrosse).

"It's been my greatest honor to play the Native American game," Rabil said in his speech. "The game has been my teacher."

No longer wearing cleats, he will continue on as lacrosse's leader.

Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Paul Rabil retires: Trailblazing lacrosse player ends playing career

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