To most boxing fans Teddy Atlas is known for his work as an analyst on ESPN 2 Friday Night Fights, to which he has called fights for over 15 years. Teddy is also known for his work as a trainer, having brought two heavyweights to title belts. What isn’t as well known is the work Teddy does outsides the ring and it is the place where he has his biggest impact.
During the 192nd edition of "On The Ropes" boxing radio I had a chance to speak with Teddy and ask him about many of the hot topics going on in the sport today, but most importantly I asked Teddy to explain to fans what exactly the Dr. Theodore Atlas Foundation is about. Teddy discussed in great detail how the foundation was formed, what programs he has started through it and what his goals are going forward in the future. Here is what Teddy had to say:
Teddy Atlas:The Dr. Theodore Atlas foundation was named after a doctor, and being that it is the same name as me, it's probably obvious it's named after my father. My Father was a doctor. He was a GP, a General Practitioner, and he practiced medicine 55 years. He understood what a doctor should be as a human being, not just as a practitioner of medicine. He took care of people for all those years. He founded two hospitals. He actually founded a hospital called Sunny Side that had twenty beds in it on Staten Island many, many years ago and the genesis of that, the inspiration of it was that he found there were a lot of poor people back in those days. There were no HMOs there, there was no real health care, and either you could afford to get hospitalization or you couldn’t.
They used to do a lot of tonsillectomies in those days where kids needed to get their tonsils removed and a simple thing like that was a big procedure for a family that couldn’t afford it and he wound up doing them free—it just became a thing where he decided he would do free tonsillectomies on Wednesdays in his office. He would just make a makeshift operating room and he would lay down cots, and blankets, and pillows mostly. He’d operate on the kids and then hold them during the day because when you did tonsillectomies those days you had to make sure that the patient didn’t hemorrhage afterwards. So he’d hold them during the day and at night and the parents would pick up the kids. That grew until the point where he couldn’t even accommodate in the office anymore. So he said, “You know, I have to go build a hospital”.
So he built this little twenty bed hospital, and again, what he basically did was he took care of people that needed to get hospitalized. He absorbed the costs himself. The ones who could pay for it paid for and it helped carry the bills but with the rest of them he just absorbed it. He did that for twenty somewhat years and then the city built the highway. They built the Verrazano Bridge and the highway leading to the Verrazano Bridge and the hospital was right in the area where the highway was going to be. So they came to my father, they bought the hospital from him, they tore it down, they put the highway up, and he founded another hospital—a doctor’s hospital—with sixty doctors and he continued to do things the same way.
I just figured, he did house calls, he practiced until he was 80 and I think that everybody feels a little mortality. When you get older you start thinking of your legacy, and more importantly, I think even if you don’t think of your legacy I think you start thinking about is there somebody up there that’s going to maybe not open that door up, if there is such a thing. You start thinking maybe I should live a certain way, and that’s a little different if you do it for those reasons. Not that you’re not adding to humanity and you’re not getting credit for doing good things, but your inspiration is a little different and he did it for 55 years so I would have to assume he did it for other reasons. Before he was thinking about whether or not there was a keeper at the gates up in the sky somewhere that might keep him out, he was doing it for a little longer than that. I just figured, he practiced until he was 80, he did house calls up until the time he was 80, he was charging $2 or $3 for house calls if he charged you at all, he was giving free medication to people, he was making sure that everybody got the treatment they should get despite of the place they were in life, whether or not they had money or they had no money. He went everywhere. He went into the projects, he went everywhere there was somebody sick and somebody in need and he did it in a very unassuming way.
So I figured, when he died, I said you know I’d like to start something to remember him and remember him in the kind of way that he lived. So we started this Foundation seventeen years ago, The Dr. Atlas Foundation, and the whole idea was bring help to people—not just with muscular dystrophy, not just with cerebral palsy, not just with cancer, but a young single mother who’s trying and has four kids and it’s too much and she’s going to be kicked out of her apartment and put into a shelter. We make sure that doesn’t happen, we come in and we pay the rent. Or if a child is on cancer treatment and the cancer treatment insurance is going to discontinue, it’s not going to keep up the treatment program—we step in and we pick up the insurance and make sure the treatment program does not stop. If a child needs to fly to a different treatment program and the family can’t afford to fly him out of state or out of town, we step in, we pick up those costs, and we also pick up the costs for the hotel and make sure that the family can get there and take care of that. If a ramp needs to be put on the side of house for a invalid child or an adult, whoever it happens to be, we make sure that ramp gets put up there. All these things, and we do them every day of the year.
Our mission statement is to take care of people that sometimes would have kind of fallen through the cracks and had nowhere else to go. We take care of it in a direct manner. We take care of it in a manner where they don’t have to wait three months, they don’t have to beg, they don’t have to plead to get it. We identify it, we validate that it’s real, and we act on it. If there’s a mission statement, the mission statement from the beginning has been don’t make the people lose more than they’ve lost already. Anybody coming to us they’ve lost something, we understand that. Don’t make them lose their dignity. Don’t make them lose their pride. Identify it, be responsible that it’s real, and act on it.
One of the things that stayed with me with my father was, when he died, all the people—the thousands of people that came out—some of the nurses would talk about the kind of man that he was and how he would go into the hospital and he would go into the nursing homes. He was the director for about nine nursing homes and the reason for it was every nursing home needed to have a doctor as a medical director back in those days to stay open, but the doctors wouldn’t do it because they didn’t get paid enough. So he wound up being the medical director of all these nursing homes and the nurses told me that he didn’t have to come to any of these places. He just had to have his name on so they could stay open, but he came every week to see these old people that people had forgotten about to a great extent. Some of them were senile, some of them weren’t, but they were all lonely and he would come there once a week and he would make sure he did his rounds in all nine nursing homes that he was down as the medical director in, and he would take his time and he would go to each room.
I thought that was worth remembering somebody who lived that way.
Also, one of the stories that the patients told me during this wake, they said, “Do you know he would do house calls at all hours and he would come, sometimes at one in the morning, twelve at night, eleven at night, whenever it was—and we couldn’t afford to pay him and he understood that, and he would stay there and have a cup of tea”. One of the patients said, “Do you know why he always had a cup of tea?” I said, “Well he loved tea, I just figured it gave him a little caffeine, it kept him going” and he had a sweet tooth and I said, “I’m sure you gave him a piece of cake”, and they laughed. They said, “He loved cheesecake. We’d give him a piece of cheesecake, we’d give him a cup of tea but do you why?” I said, “Yeah, because he had a sweet tooth and the caffeine would keep him going” and the patients were a lot smarter than me, and that’s not hard to be. They said, “No, the reason he did it was that we were giving something back—so we wouldn’t feel we were getting charity”, and then it made sense. Immediately I understood that as truth. I said, “Yeah, that’s why he did it. You’re right, you’re absolutely right, that’s why he did it” and that’s how we do the Foundation.
Every day of the week we’re getting calls, and I get a little nervous. Can we keep this up? It’s been Seventeen years we’ve given over five million dollars and what I feel good about it—I wish it was fifty million, I wish it was fifteen million. We don’t have any administrative costs. If a family calls and they need a wheelchair, we get them the wheelchair. Whatever it is that has to be done to help that person’s quality of life in that situation, we’re able to act on it and everything goes to the right things. We also have the food pantry that feeds people in the New York area that unfortunately go to bed hungry sometimes with children. To the point that we can help that, our food pantry has been helping that.
We also have the boxing gyms, The Teddy Atlas cops and kids boxing program. We have been doing it for 5 years now. Violence is a sickness and we’re helping to prevent that with our gyms. I agreed to absorb the boxing program with a twist - that education components had to be part of it. We established behavioral rules and conduct with disciplinary consequences. The kids have to keep their grades up if they want to train. It gives kids, sometimes for the first time a reason to feel good about themselves, and a reason to really have pride in themselves. The most important thing it does it gives them a reason to care about themselves.
Boxing gives them a reason to care about themselves, and know that they should. That has a great effect on everybody, because if you can get a kid to care about himself, then they can care about other people, and become better people, become the people they were suppose to be. Boxing is magical that way and it's alternative to violence. I'm glad Paddy came to me about the gyms, I just have to figure out a way to keep making money to make sure we can keep these gyms open for another 5, another 10, another 15, another 20 years. I just wish that politicians that don't donate to my charity really knew what boxing does, and how it impacts these kids.
We have been doing that, and we have been doing the medical stuff and we have been doing it for seventeen years, I'm very grateful to the people out there that give us the resources to do the things we do, and have the trust in us to go forward and do these things. We have a big dinner every year in November, we have a lot of celebrities that come out to the dinner, and we have about 1,100 people come out to the dinner, it's our big dinner. We also do a golf outing, and we also do a Golden Gloves event and we get good people that know what we are doing and donate. But we have to continue to do those things so we can continue do what the foundation does.
To learn more about the foundation or to donate, please visit Teddy's website.