By Thomas Albano
The passion that boxing trainer and commentator Teddy Atlas has for the sport can be seen every time he commentates on a fight, even if it earns him some backlash and negative comments from a specific portion of the audience.
But if there’s one thing that Atlas has a bigger passion for than boxing, it most certainly has to be his Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, which hosted its annual “Teddy” Dinner last night at the Hilton Garden Inn in Staten Island, New York.
Atlas founded the foundation in 1997 in his father’s memory. Atlas’ father was a physician on Staten Island who provided free medical care to those who couldn’t afford it. Up to the age of 80, the elder Atlas, continued to take calls and serve those in need.
According to Atlas, the influences from his father did not come from hands-on, verbal instruction, but rather through “seeing and osmosis.”
“My father was a doer. He wasn’t a talker,” Atlas said in a mid-2017 interview. “He was a strong, very principled tough man.”
Dr. Theodore Atlas’ mother, Teddy’s grandmother, told Dr. Atlas at a young age that he would go into the medical field and to take care of the poor. After graduating from the New York University School of Medicine in 1927, Dr. Atlas practiced on Staten Island for 55 years. During this time, he founded Sunnyside Hospital and Doctor’s Hospital.
Dr. Atlas may be most remembered for his generosity and humility while performing his job, going out of his way to make the lives of those in the community much better. As his son described, Dr. Atlas would take pillows and blankets and make beds to perform tonsillectomies on kids who needed them.
“I learned a lot of things from him,” Atlas said. “I learned about work ethic, I learned about commitment, and then I learned about a word I never understood other than it was a word. I learned what it was to be a professional. It had nothing to do about being paid. It had to about doing what you’re supposed to do.”
Teddy Atlas described his father as being a very sacrificial and giving man from a young age. While interning at Bellevue Hospital, Atlas’ father developed a hernia while trying to help someone having a heart attack. The elder Atlas never corrected the problem, and about 35 years later, he developed a double hernia.
On the same day he was forced to bury a young son, Dr. Atlas received a house call from a woman who needed emergency care for her baby. The woman couldn’t afford to go to the emergency room, nor had the means to do so. Without hesitation, Dr. Atlas got to the woman and performed his job.
One day, a young Atlas traveled with his father and recognized a similar path they had gone down in the same week, Atlas thought his father was taking care of a sick, elderly woman, when in reality it turned out the woman was quite healthy. When Atlas questioned his father, his father responded, “She’s lonely. And loneliness is a sickness, too. I sit, and I listen to her.”
Dr. Atlas died in 1993 at the age of 88. And on the day of the funeral, the influence from Atlas’ father played out when Atlas attended the funeral, and on the same day, he went to the gym to help train future heavyweight champion Michael Moorer. That day, Moorer got into an argument with Atlas over not wanting to spar.
When Atlas got a call from Moorer later, asking why he showed up, Atlas said Moorer shouldn’t be sorry for arguing because Atlas’ father died, but because he tried to get out of something he was supposed to do.
“It was a sorrowful thing that my father died, but it was still my job that day to take care of the responsibilities for my father, and it was my job later that day to train this guy for a fight he had coming up in two weeks,” Atlas said.
After his father died, Atlas said he wanted a way for the man, who went through his profession for passion, care and teaching others how to live, to be remembered and celebrated. Thus, the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation was born.
The foundation is based off of the same principles Dr. Atlas showed during his work. It helps others in need in a variety of ways, from tasks such as setting up handicap ramps, to giving Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas toys to those who cannot afford them, and from paying for needed procedures for the sick to providing other resources for those in need.
The foundation has an incentive program for poverty-stricken and troubled students. The program encourages students to grow, improve their behavior and become better people academically, socially and personally. Those who succeed are treated to great rewards, such as trips to MLB and NBA games and Broadway shows.
Atlas, who had a troubled childhood filled with getting in street fights and getting arrested, says the program is successful because it shows the kids there are people who care, and he wants them to be great individuals in life.
“Some of these kids…they don’t need someone to say ‘Stop doing that,’ they need someone to say, ‘I care that you stop doing it,’” Atlas said. “‘Don’t just stop doing it because I say, stop doing it because it matters. I care enough to tell you this.’”
The foundation also funds and supports a youth basketball league with cheerleading squads, all with academic and behavioral performance as qualification for participation. It also gives out four different collegiate scholarships.
Atlas additionally helps with privately funded boxing gyms originally set up by the Police Athletic League (PAL). Atlas trains and mentors young boxers in the hopes that they will be successful in and out of the ring.
The annual Teddy Dinner, where most of the donations to the Dr. Atlas Foundation are received, is held the Thursday before Thanksgiving. Every year, over 1,000 come out for the event, including many celebrities who show support for the foundation. Some of this year’s guests included New York Yankees radio play-by-play man John Sterling; former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms; MLB Network’s Brian Kenny; and ESPN’s First Take hosts Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman.
“After [the celebrities] come, to see what they see — the cases that they see, the testimonials — they believe in what they see and the importance of it,” Atlas said. “I’m very blessed the foundation has celebrities like that.”
In addition, The Dr. Atlas foundation holds an annual golf outing in the fall and a Golden Gloves boxing event in the spring.
Between his foundation and training and broadcasting responsibilities, it may seem like Atlas has a lot on his plate. But for Atlas, it’s all about the passion brought into him through his experiences, and especially his father.
“No matter how you feel, you do your job,” Atlas said.