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Sticking with the sport he loves

July 1, 2012
By PAUL EDGAR (pedgar@reviewonline.com) , The Review

Boxing is in Teddy Atlas' blood.

By his own admission, the sport is all he's ever known.

"I did one thing outside of boxing," Atlas told The Review. "I painted a house once. I think I did a pretty good job, but, other than that, boxing is all I've ever done. I've been involved in the sport all my life in one way or another."

Article Photos

Teddy Atlas gets a kiss from Michael Moorer after the two worked together to capture the heavyweight title against Evander Holyfield in 1994. (Photo by Associated Press)

Atlas has seen his passion for boxing turn into a lifelong career. He has climbed the ranks to become a world class trainer and one of the foremost experts in the sport as the face of ESPN's Friday Night Fights broadcast for the past 15 years.

"The sport has always been important to me," he said. "It's not just two guys out there brawling. It's so much more than that."

Boxing beginnings

Fact Box

The sport of boxing has been good to Teddy Atlas.

At 56, Atlas has spent the majority of his life doing what he loves, and by his own admission, being involved with boxing is all he's ever wanted to do.

Over the years, Atlas has become recognized as one of the leading voices for all things boxing. From being a world class trainer to a popular commentator of the sweet science, Atlas has found a way to make a living being around a sport that is near to his heart.

The blessings boxing has bestowed upon his life have not been lost on Atlas.

To give back, in 1997 Atlas founded The Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, a New York-based community service organization that provides financial, legal and emotional support to individuals and organizations in need, and focuses particularly on the needs of children.

Fast forward 15 years and the foundation has given nearly $4 million in direct aid to those less fortunate.

"I started it to remember my father," Atlas said. "We're here to help take care of the people who fall through the cracks. We're going to continue to do what my father did for 55 years as a doctor."

Dr. Theodore A. Atlas graduated from the New York University School of Medicine to in 1927, and for the next five decades plus practiced medicine on Staten Island. Dr. Atlas founded two hospitals in the borough, first Sunnyside Hospital and later Doctor's Hospital and also served as Medical Director for six nursing homes, making regular visits to these homes but refusing to accept compensation for his services.

Despite these and other notable accomplishments, Dr. Atlas was actually better known for the personal care and attention he gave to his patients.

"He was a good doctor," Atlas said of his father. "In those days, kids were getting tonsillectomy's quite often and my father started to provide free surgeries in his office on Wednesdays. He'd turn his office into a makeshift emergency room. And he did it for free. He wasn't making money, but more and more people started coming. So, he started Sunnyside Hospital to give care to those who couldn't afford it."

The foundation's aim is to come to the aid of people in a variety of difficult situations.

It has engaged in large endeavors, such as creating incentive programs in schools to encourage and motivate students, opening and operating a food pantry in Staten Island to make sure that children do not go to bed hungry, and distributing turkeys on Thanksgiving and toys on Christmas to families who do not have the financial resources to properly celebrate the holidays.

"Every day of the week, we're working on a case, sometimes two or three at a time," Atlas said.

The organization has also helped on a individual basis.

It purchased a special machine to oxidate the blood of a young girl with pulmonary atresia; purchased a central air conditioning unit for the home of a young boy whose rare condition caused his skin to blister painfully when the room temperature increased; surprised a 12-year-old boy with cancer who returned home from chemotherapy to find that his bare room that his mother could not afford to furnish, except for a mattress on the floor, had been painted and equipped with a new bed and furniture and a television; helped to pay the health insurance of a young boy with lymphoma who was receiving chemotherapy treatments, and then brought him to a Yankee game, where he spent time in the dugout with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, in order to lift the spirits of the 5-year-old Yankee fan.

"Whatever the needs are where insurance doesn't cover and families aren't able to make it work," Atlas said. "And we've started boxing gyms in some tough areas. We've got 800 kids right now and 95 percent of them are graduating high school."

The foundation continues its work through the generous support of the people who send donations throughout the year. And it has done so with a volunteer staff and without any bureaucratic obstacles. Administrative costs are minimal, so that nearly every penny that comes into the foundation is disbursed to help people in need.

"I hope we can continue to do these things for a long time," Atlas said. "We need more corporate sponsorship and we need to continue to get support from the public to keep these things going."

If you would like to learn more about the foundation, visit their website at www.dratlasfoundation.com

(Story by PAUL EDGAR, pedgar@reviewonline.com)

Born in 1956 in Staten Island, New York, Atlas grew up as a troubled, rebellious youth.

After committing numerous crimes, from armed robbery to assault to various general mischief, Atlas dropped out of school and found himself serving time at Riker's Island correctional facility as a juvenile.

That's when boxing came into Atlas' life.

"I was kind of wandering as a kid," he said. "I was looking for my father's attention. I got into my share of fights on the streets and I eventually wound up in the gym."

Atlas' initial foray into boxing began at a local New York neighborhood Police Athletic League (PAL) gym.

To keep himself out of trouble, Atlas moved to Catskill, New York, to work with legendary boxing manager Cus D'Amato.

At 18, Atlas won a Golden Gloves tournament, and D'Amato believed he had a rising prospect in Atlas. However, Atlas was injured while fighting and was diagnosed with scoliosis as well as gaps in his vertebrae and a herniated disc.

Atlas' boxing career - as far as he could see at the moment - was over.

"Cus got involved in my life," he said. "The idea was for me to turn pro, but I had an injury and Cus felt like I could be a good teacher of the sport."

However, the young fighter wasn't initially interested in becoming a trainer.

"I didn't want to do it at first," Atlas said. "It took a little bit for me to get over the fact that I couldn't box anymore, but eventually I came around. I took up Cus' challenge, and looking back it turned out to be a pretty good decision."

For the next seven years, Atlas worked as the main trainer at the gym in Catskill under the tutelage of D'Amato, who is a boxing Hall of Famer and was best known for his work with former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson.

"I took to it," Atlas said of becoming a trainer. "I committed myself seven days a week, not five or six. Cus didn't believe in taking Sundays off."

One day, in the fall of 1979, a then 12-year-old troubled boy from the Bronx walked through the doors of the Catskill gym.

His name was Mike Tyson.

"There was no doubt he was a special talent," Atlas said. "But he was completely raw and we developed him just like all the other kids. The problem was that there were rules to follow. When Tyson started breaking the rules, I did the same with him as I would anyone else. I put him out of the gym."

Atlas' insistence that the promising prospect Tyson be held to the same standards as everyone else caused a riff between D'Amato and himself.

The partnership between Atlas and D'Amato would eventually be dissolved, and Atlas would take his talents elsewhere.

His next initial work came in the famed Gleason's Gym in New York. Atlas would go on to be recognized as one of the best trainers in the sport. He is most known for his work with Michael Moorer, who he guided to the heavyweight championship in 1994 by beating Evander Holyfield. Just last year, Atlas joined the training ranks again and led Alexander Povetkin to a heavyweight title.

For love of the game

From amateur boxer to trainer to commentator, Atlas has dedicated his life to the sport he loves. Over the past four decades, he has been almost exclusively working within the sport of boxing.

But why? Why did Atlas fall in love with the sweet science?

Atlas described what he calls "the magic of boxing" as being a vehicle where at-risk youth can discover that they indeed do have a fighting chance.

"A kid can find himself through boxing," he said. "Take a kid who doesn't think much of himself, he can take those problems to the gym and gain confidence. He can discover pride in himself and realize he's worth something."

Atlas has seen the healing powers of the sport firsthand.

While working as a trainer in the Catskill's, he became a father figure to many troubled youth that walked through the gyms doors.

More recently, Atlas has also opened boxing gyms in some of New York's toughest neighborhoods because he knows the sport can teach invaluable life lessons.

"Kids are supposed to get those lessons from their parents," he said. "But, in the real world, they don't always get those things at home."

Atlas now has some 800 kids training in those facilities where its participants graduate high school at a rate of 95 percent.

"A kid can gain direction, discipline that he may not be getting anywhere else," Atlas said. "He can carry that knowledge and core of belief he gains in the gym to be a good fighter. And even if he's not a great boxer, he can carry those lessons with him throughout life."

Atlas said he also loves boxing because it is one of the only sports where anybody can achieve greatness. Perhaps no one knows better than Atlas that in the boxing ring, anything can happen.

"With all the inequities in the world - no matter what your DNA, your genetics, where you're from, what your resources were or how impoverished you are - if you're determined, on any given night you can make the world even," he said. "You can make all those things equal."

Throughout his years in the sport, Atlas has witnessed those once-in-a-lifetime moments that, in his mind, make the sport of boxing unparalleled.

"Even if the other guy had all the advantages, if you prepare enough and are willing to do enough, you can have your hand raised at the end," he said. "You can be the best no matter who you are."

Keeping them honest

Over the past 15 years, Atlas has, in many ways, become the face of boxing.

Alongside his partner and blow-by-blow commentator Joe Tessitore, Atlas, a ringside analyst, has called fights on ESPN that saw an average audience of 543,000 each week last year.

Both Tessitore and Atlas have been lauded for their work by receiving The Sam Taub Award, a yearly honor presented by the International Boxing Hall of Fame for excellence in broadcasting journalism.

Atlas has also worked as a boxing commentator for NBC's coverage of the Olympic Games in Sydney (2000), Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008). Next month in London, Atlas will work at his fourth straight Olympics.

During his time as a broadcaster, Atlas has become known for speaking his mind freely.

"I look at it as the most important thing to have is legitimacy," he said. "There's inherent risk in being a straight shooter because sometimes you're going to offend somebody. But, to me, what's the sense in doing it if you're not going to be honest. I've always tried to keep those standards."

In a sport that is often ripe in controversy and corruption, Atlas has tried to provide his fans with the truth as he sees it.

"Sometimes, I think it would be easier to keep my mouth shut," he said. "But a lot of people thank me for what I'm willing to say. Sometimes the other side, the promotion side and the business side, don't like it. Things are working for them."

While Atlas doesn't feel he is the sport's savior, he believes he has an obligation to do say what he thinks is right in his heart.

"Since I've been fortunate enough to be in the position I am, there comes a responsibility," he said. "That's what I'm driven by. It's not my job because my job is to call the fights. But I'm in a position to do what I think is best for the sport."

Teddy Atlas is boxing. Boxing is Teddy Atlas. Fighter. Trainer. Commentator. Advocate.

"Fighters need someone who's looking out for them," he said. "The other sports have that, but there's nothing in place in boxing for that. I don't consider myself the judge, jury and executioner, but I'm in a position to help in some ways and that's what I'm going to do because I love this sport."

 
 

 

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