Atlas Foundation: Amateur and Pro-Social

By Robert Ecksel on November 6, 2011
Atlas Foundation: Amateur and Pro-Social
"We’ve got two gyms,” said Atlas, “in tough areas, areas that need help." (

Boxing has a pro-social aspect that is as engrained in its DNA as a jab followed by a straight right…

Boxing is a unique sport in many ways. It is pathologically event-driven and star-based in ways that other sports, with their established seasons and playoffs, are not. If baseball were like boxing, it would be a season of little league games followed by the World Series. If football were like boxing, a dozen Pop Warner scrimmages would be topped off by the Super Bowl. But boxing, by contrast, has its World Series and Super Bowl every couple of months, whenever a pay-per-view show, with all its attendant hoopla and hype, graces the airwaves and empties pockets.

But boxing is more than its marquee fights and marquee fighters; much more. We’ve gotten so accustomed to the anti-social component in the fight game, whether it’s from trash talking promoters, trash talking fighters, or from the riff-raff that circles the sport the way vultures circle carrion, that we tend to forget that boxing, away from the bright lights, big city, away from the grandiosity, away from the posers and imposters, has a pro-social aspect that is as invisible as it is unacknowledged, yet is as deeply engrained in boxing’s DNA as a jab followed by a straight right.

In the old days, before boxing was pushed aside by more polite sporting entertainments, there were Boys Clubs, YMCAs, Catholic Youth Organizations, and more boxing gyms than you could throw a stick at. These were the Petri dishes in which boxing’s culture grew. Then as now, not every kid who wandered into one of these forgotten holes in the wall went to the Olympics or developed into a champion or fighter of note. Most of them casually wandered in and then just as casually wandered out. But they took away with them something essential. They took with them the discipline and forbearance, attention to detail, and an elevated sense of self that was often more than enough to help them escape the lure of the street. There was no substitute for the education they received in the gym. What they learned were the nuts and bolts to survive in a dog-eat-dog world.

Well, the more things change the more they stay the same. The Boys Clubs and Ys and CYOs and gyms may be gone, but the world is as dog-eat-dog as ever—only more so. Poverty is endemic. Hope is in short supply if not nonexistent. Just as knives once replaced fists, guns have since replaced knives. Life has never been cheaper. It would seem that now, more than ever, there needs to be an outlet, an oasis for those who desperately need something to give their lives meaning.

The PALs in New York City picked up the slack for many, many years, but even the PAL has turned its back on boxing. A new athletic director came on the scene and decided it was time to shake things up. He succeeded. Shake things up he did. The PAL dropped boxing in favor of aerobics classes.

Pat Russo, who ran the PAL program forever, begged, pleaded and cajoled the new man in charge to not abandon the kids to the streets. But it was like talking to a brick wall, or trying to decipher a sphinx with no riddle. So Russo turned to Teddy Atlas for help.

Atlas founded the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation in 1997 to continue the life work of his father. “He was a physician and a man who understood that fulfilling the physical needs of a person had to be done in a way that preserved that person’s dignity,” Teddy said. “He was known for taking care of patients who either had no medical insurance or the wrong kind. He made house calls to the poorest of communities, knowing that these patients could not afford to pay, but also knowing that he could heal them.”

The Foundation has helped thousands of individuals and families who have fallen through the cracks and have nowhere else to turn, but boxing was not part of its mission—at least until Russo came bearing the bad news about the PAL.

The first two gyms in the Atlas NYPD Cops & Kids Boxing Program opened in 2010, one in Flatbush Gardens in Brooklyn and one in the Park Hill section of Staten Island. A third gym is soon to open in Brownsville, a fourth in the Berry Houses in Staten Island, and a fifth is on the drawing board for the Bronx.

“We’ve got two gyms,” Atlas told, “in tough areas, areas that need help, because the kids don’t always have parents at home and they have a lot of problems. We’ve got about 350 kids so far that are doing great. And we’re opening a gym in Brownsville, Brooklyn—a very rough area where they shoot people in the middle of the day, which is ridiculous and disgusts me—and it’s probably going to be one of the only positive things there. It’s going to save a lot of kids. Part of the formula is that we put learning centers with computers in each gym, and we hired the girl to go over and help the kids with their schoolwork, as well make them all show their report cards. If they’re not passing, they don’t come to the gym until they pass.

“Patty called me and said, ‘Teddy, they’re shutting the gyms down, shutting off the electric, and the kids are going to be lost, and can you step in with the Foundation and not let that happen?’ And that’s what we did.”

Atlas has his detractors, as do we all, and whether it’s the result of professional jealousy or something more serpentine is hard to assess. But he’s reaching out because that’s what he does. It’s not just talk with Teddy Atlas. He puts his time and money, not to mention his considerable energy, into doing for others what they cannot do for themselves. If there were more people like Atlas doing good works for those in need, the world would be a better place. I know it. Teddy knows it. And you should know it too.

“We can’t even get subsidization for these gyms,” continued Atlas. “The Foundation has to pay for it. We’re paying for individual needs of kids every day of the week. We’re getting cases, ten cases, fifteen cases a week, dire stories, mindboggling stories, heartbreaking stories. We get people from point A to point B in life. We’re putting up handicap ramps. We’re paying for the treatment of sick kids that their insurance doesn’t pay for, paying for cancer medications whenever the insurance doesn’t cover it and the family can’t pay it out of pocket. We’re flying families out of state for treatment for their kids. They had nowhere else to go. They went to Muscular Dystrophy; they got turned down. They went to March of Dimes; got turned down. They went to American Cancer Society; got turned down. Eighty-five percent of their money goes to administrative costs. Three percent goes to research. But these people don’t need research. They need help—and we’re doing it every day. That’s our mission statement. That’s what we do.

“But we’re also doing the gyms now too. And I’m a little scared that it’s taking all the money to run the gyms, which is important, and yet I can’t get subsidization for some of the medical things we do. We just have to keep doing what we do: our fundraisers, and doing it that way. But we should be able to get city subsidization for these programs, for the gyms. Are you kidding me? Are you telling me those friggin’ sorry ass politicians, yes, sorry ass politicians, they can’t find money in the city budget to give us money to save kids that are getting killed every day out there for a positive program? We have to do it? We’re going to keep doing it, but we have to find another way. It’s draining us. Six-thousand dollars a month gets written out for these gyms. Every month—out, out, out. I get a little nervous sometimes. It’s such a large number, and it’s such a constant number, that if we don’t get more corporate presence, more corporate help, which I’m trying to get, I start to get worried about our handling all the programs we handle. But we’re doing it.”

If you feel it in your heart, and in your pocket, you might want to make a donation or attend the Foundation’s primary fundraising event, the 15th Annual Teddy Dinner, which takes place each year on the Thursday before Thanksgiving. Past attendees have included, from the world of sports, Bill Parcells, Eric Mangini, Chad Pennington, Curtis Martin, Gary Sheffield, John Franco, John McEnroe, Willis Reed, Micky Ward, Arturo Gatti, Larry Holmes, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, Gerry Cooney, Greg Buttle, Lou Duva, Tommy Hearns, Michael Moorer, Phil Simms, Bobby Czyz, Pete Rose, Iran Barkley and Harry Carson, and, from the world of entertainment, Chris Noth, Chuck Zito, Willem Dafoe, Danny Aiello, Pat Cooper, Tony Sirico, Burt Young, Max Kellerman, Mike Fransceca and Steven Baldwin.

The only one missing is you.

Tickets to the 15th Annual Teddy Dinner on Nov. 17 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Staten Island are available at or by calling 718-980-7037.

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  1. the thresher 02:28pm, 11/06/2011

    A really great piece Robert. And very informative. Re my article about Rone, it was this Foundation that paid for his body to be flown back to Ohio after the dispicable Utah Commission would not.

    Keep ‘em coming!

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