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Game Changed

One of polo’s brightest young stars, Kareem Rosser, celebrates transcending societal norms in his new memoir, Crossing the Line.

Kareem Rosser's inspiring story has been closely watched, whether featured on HBO’s Real Sports, 60 Minutes, or The Today Show. Yet this two-time national polo champion had more to say, and on his own terms. A new must-read, Crossing the Line navigates his rise from “The Bottom” neighborhood (yes, it’s actually coined that) in Philadelphia—mucking stalls at Work to Ride—to the pinnacle of the privileged polo world. From his home office, Rosser, also a financial advisor for Reath & Company, reveals the power of a horse and the impact of truthful storytelling.

You started playing polo at age 8. What was your first-ever experience on a horse?

My first pony ride was on Angel, and I was led around the ring by my older brother, David. I recall being terrified, yet it was exhilarating and I felt free. I knew immediately that my calling was to be on top of a horse.

Half of the proceeds from Crossing the Line go to Work to Ride, which has been hugely impactful on your life. How did you discover the non-profit?

My brothers David and Daymar accidentally found the stables on an afternoon bike ride. They rode to a dead end, and found this magical place—Work to Ride and the Chamounix Stables. A couple months thereafter, myself and other siblings joined them.

Rosser says he knew at a young age he was destined to be atop a horse.
His new memoir, Crossing the Line.

As a young child, you suffered from anxiety and panic attacks. How did polo change you emotionally?

Whenever I was around a horse or showed up to the stables I felt free, and every discomfort went away. A horse’s very presence—figuratively and literally—is so large. They command all your attention, so any worries are washed away. You have to be able to communicate and understand each other’s cues. As an 80-pound little boy, you’re controlling this massive animal and it’s listening to you. It was an amazing feeling.

Your first trip abroad was to Nigeria with your younger brother, Daymar, who you played polo with. How did that experience affect you?

It was amazing, intense, and incredible to visit Africa. We thought we grew up in a tough place and in poverty, without access to much, but you go to a place like Nigeria and realize life’s not that bad—kids don’t even have access to clean water. It was an interesting dynamic to be the ‘wealthy ones.’ They were mesmerized by our presence, yet we just saw ourselves as below average kids from the U.S., and we bonded over our differences.

You pushed through the elite world of polo, and in Crossing the Line, talk about what those experiences were like as a young Black man. What were the biggest challenges?

For the most part, [the polo world] was more welcoming than expected. There were obvious barriers to entry. But as my brother and I got better, people started reaching out and offering spots at a higher level and we started gaining access: the nice polo horses, the trailers, the equipment, the funds to play in tournaments.

In your epilogue you write about y our brother, David, who was shot and killed while you were writing your book. Did writing about him help you heal?

There was no way I was going to publish a book and not mention losing him and his contribution to me personally and our family. One of my worst fears was losing him. It was a punch in the stomach to watch my mother bury one of her children. It was a painful process, but it also allowed me to reflect on the impact my brother had on my family. Because of him, I have a story to tell. I wouldn’t have found the stables or gained my passion for horses without him.

What does the book title— Crossing the Line—mean to you?

It’s about me as an individual crossing into the world of polo. There’s a misperception that it’s only for the wealthy, and only for the white. And it’s also a reference to the polo rule of crossing the line. But ultimately, it’s about gaining the courage

to enter a world I knew nothing about—coming from The Bottom in Philadelphia, where you see some of the worst crimes, and crossing into this privileged world. It was intimidating and scary at times, and I was always trying to figure out which line to actually cross.

Where do you most like to escape to?

For a couple of years I’ve gone to Zermatt to ski. People ask me what it’s like, and I say it’s like a little town in a snow globe. I also love Colorado. When I’m not riding and it’s winter, I am somewhere skiing and loving the mountains. I like to throw myself into the deep end and learn how to swim—that’s my life story.