College Lacrosse

Former Johns Hopkins lacrosse star Paul Rabil announces retirement to concentrate on growing Premier Lacrosse League

The words “I’m retiring” may be the two most difficult Paul Rabil has uttered in his life.

“Lacrosse was my first love,” he said as his voice bristled with emotion. “I’ve been playing this game for 23 years and now 14 seasons professionally. … I vividly remember my mom dragging me to practice when I didn’t want to go and I would kick and scream, and that commitment really got me here today. We wouldn’t be here, and she’s here. Today, it comes with unending gratitude and the heaviest of hearts that I’ll be retiring from professional lacrosse.”


On Tuesday, Rabil made it official, announcing his decision to retire at a news conference arranged by the Premier Lacrosse League — the professional tour he cofounded with older brother Mike three years ago — at Washington D.C.’s Audi Field, the site of the league’s championship game between the Chaos and the Whipsnakes on Sunday at noon.

More than 20 coaches and teammates whom the 35-year-old Rabil considers mentors and friends attended the ceremony in support of the Gaithersburg native and DeMatha graduate who had centered his athletic focus on soccer and basketball before discovering lacrosse as a 12-year-old.


“I think I came to the decision that the time is now to transition, and I feel really grateful and blessed for the career that I’ve had and the teammates that I’ve played with, and I will miss it,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to know how much I will miss it, and I think I’ll continue to shoulder that and figure it out over the next few years. But there’s a large part of me that knows that this is right, and what I’m off to do now is hopefully going to be more impactful on the game than playing it.”

Those who know Rabil best insisted that the Cannons midfielder and Johns Hopkins’ former three-time first-team All American has been just as meaningful for the sport. Kyle Harrison, who played with Rabil on the 2005 Blue Jays team that captured its eighth of nine NCAA Division I championships, described his former teammate as a trailblazer for creating a league where the players are stockholders with a vested interest in growing the tour-based model.

Paul Rabil, pictured as a member of The Atlas on Aug. 11, 2019, has announced his retirement.

“He was the first guy that came out and understood how to build a brand,” said Harrison, who had announced his retirement in June and will continue to serve as the PLL’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion and director of player relations. “He has understood marketing from the beginning, branding, contact creation. He has understood all of that from the second he started doing it, which put him ahead of the game and ahead of everybody — myself included.

“So there’s obviously going to be that legacy and his commitment to professional lacrosse in really trying to get professional lacrosse to the next level. I’m lucky in that we are in the minority that really came out and got to be full-time lacrosse players, and Paul is trying to create a legacy and opportunity so that when guys graduate from college, they can become professional lacrosse players.”

Rabil said candidly that the idea of retirement popped into his head as he and his brother began forming the PLL, but the drive to compete was overwhelming. Still, the questions about whether he should transition from player to full-time co-founder persisted.

“It’s a really unique experience because you’re analyzing yourself in honest ways with other people in a boardroom as if you’re a businessman, and that’s not what you do when you’re an athlete,” he said. “To get to where other athletes get to, you have to have this relentless pursuit against all odds and welcome all challenges. So part of me through that experience has been having to juggle looking at my investors and co-founder in the eye and saying, ‘I can play until 40 because I feel that way’ versus being really analytical and weighing the pros and cons and making the decision not just what’s best for me, but what’s best for the company.”

Athletically, Rabil enjoyed one of his finest seasons in the PLL, ranking fourth among all midfielders in points with 26. But as he aged, his body began breaking down.

Rabil has undergone two surgical operations on his foot, one on his abdomen, and one on his adductor muscle. He has gritted his way through a herniated disc in his back and two tears in his shoulder and will need cartilage replacement in his knee in the offseason. He loathes discussing his ailments, but Mike Rabil said his brother had to have his knee drained before every game, was recommended to use crutches during non-playing days, and could barely practice.


“It started to become clear that he needed to get real surgery, and the combination of surgery and needing him to be the co-founder, it kind of led to the decision that this is the right time,” said Mike Rabil, 37. “And he had a great season. So I think it’s one of those things where you get to place where you can say, ‘I think the stars are starting to align.’”

Harrison and Rabil have been arguably two of the most prominent faces associated with lacrosse, but Dave Pietramala, who coached both at Johns Hopkins, said the PLL needs its talents in boardrooms and fan symposiums.

“I think the league needs those two players to dedicate their times elsewhere now,” said Pietramala, who is now the defensive coordinator at Syracuse. “And it’s time for new guys to step up. You’ve got players like [Archers attackman] Grant Ament and [Archers midfielder] Tom Schreiber and this next core group of talented players coming into the league and taking over. So it’s a great time for Paul and Kyle to pass the baton onto those guys and go into the next phase of their careers, which is continuing to get this league moving forward.”

Mike Rabil did not deny that the sport will miss his brother and Harrison but noted it’s an opportunity for the sport to grow new stars.

“So while it’s sad for everyone to see someone leave,” he said, “it’s just a natural evolution of sports.”

While continuing responsibilities associated with nurturing the PLL await his undivided attention, Rabil admitted that he would miss the camaraderie in the locker room and in the huddles.


“I will regret not being in those, but even over the last few days when I’ve begun calling teammates and coaches, I have this level of excitement — especially for my current teammates and foes who are in the PLL — about really getting to dedicate my time to them,” he said. “Pro sports is a form of storytelling, and that’s what I love to do, and now I get to unequivocally devote my time to telling them.”