Outside the Ring: David Berlin

By Jill Diamond on June 24, 2014
Outside the Ring: David Berlin
Whenever someone fresh comes aboard, there is speculation as to their background.

“I will work to preserve the integrity of the sport because only then will boxers get the respect they deserve…”

Sports and Philanthropy: A series of articles dedicated to those who’ve given their all and still give more. Each article will feature a different community champion; no belts, no medals, no ratings… just good people passing it on.

David Berlin, the new Executive Director of NYSAC, isn’t the only one in his family who loves the sport. His brother Adam is also involved as a journalist and avid fan. But David walked away from a successful law practice and probably, a more ordered personal life to undertake the job. He did this knowing the magnifying glass of public opinion would reflect his every move. He has strong ideas about what is and what he’d like to see happen; some are very traditional, some are idealistic, and some, we hope, quickly attainable. As you’ll find out, he has a strong empathy for fighters, having been an amateur boxer himself. So a strong component is David’s plan is to work closely with officials, and create what he considers a competent and dedicated stable of talent, something he believes the sport, the boxers, and New York deserves. Whenever someone fresh comes aboard, there is always speculation as to their background and the reasons they would involve themselves with one of the most scrutinized positions in sports. I think after reading this, you’ll understand why, when asked, he took the Ring and said “I do.”

You’ve turned a “family affair” into a marriage. Why boxing?

My brother Adam and I used to watch the fights with our father when we were kids. That’s when boxing was televised on ABC and NBC on Saturday afternoons. But the sport really caught me in its grip when Adam took me to my first live card at the Felt Forum, which was the small venue inside Madison Square Garden. I was 15 years old and visiting Adam, who had moved to New York City straight out of high school. Adam had already been to the Felt Forum a few times and knew the routine. We bought $10 tickets, put the stubs in our pockets after the ticket taker ripped them in half, and headed straight for the best open seats we could find. I don’t remember who fought but I remember how I felt as I watched the fights. We were close to the ring and I remember feeling how different it was from watching on TV. It was brutal, the thud of leather against flesh, but it was also beautiful in its simplicity and it felt pure. When I came to live in New York after college, Adam and I were regulars at the Felt Forum, and we followed the local boxers who made the Felt Forum their home. Glenwood “The Real Beast” Brown. Tunde Foster. Aaron “Superman” Davis. Tyrone “The Harlem Butcher” Jackson. Chris “The Shamrock Express” Reid. “Big” Art Tucker. Buddy McGirt. We followed them all. But our favorite fighter at that time was Iran Barkley, and the most exciting fight I saw at the Felt Forum pitted Iran against Michael Olajide. It was called “Big Apple, Bad Blood,” a fight for bragging rights in New York City. The arena was full and the atmosphere was electric. You could feel the excitement, and it was one fight that lived up to the hype. Barkley visited the canvas early in the fight but went on to win by 5th round knockout. It was thrilling for us to see Iran win that kind of fight, but what made the night more special was the fact that it was the first time that my father and my brother and I were together at a live fight. Truly a family affair.

What is your mission, your priorities your plan?

It is simple. Everything I do, large and small, comes out of a care for the boxers. I will make sure that competent judges and referees officiate at the fights because it is vital that the boxer who deserves the victory has his or her hand raised at the end of the fight. I will look to see that proper medical standards are in place, and the best doctors are ringside, because boxer safety is of paramount importance. And I will work to preserve the integrity of the sport because only then will boxers get the respect they deserve. 

Your law firm was known for representing children with various challenges. Would you expound on that?

I focused on three primary areas of practice as a lawyer: boxing law, criminal defense work, and special education work. Along with George Zelma, my partner in that area of law, I represented children with learning and emotional disabilities, children who needed accommodations in order to learn or, in some cases, needed a particular school environment in order to receive the benefits of an education. We fought to make sure that those children had the opportunity to be in a setting where they could learn, something that all children deserve.

Why did you choose to get involved with the Teddy Atlas Foundation?

There is no better and no truer charity than the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation. The foundation was founded by Teddy to honor the memory of his father. Teddy’s father was an exceptional man — he founded two hospitals on Staten Island, he made house calls until he was 80 years old, and he treated for free patients who could not afford to pay. Like Dr. Atlas, the foundation helps people in times of need, often in times of desperate need, and it does so in a way that allows the people being helped to preserve their dignity. No red tape. No bureaucracy. Just a demonstration of real need and the foundation is there with immediate help. A piece of medical equipment that is not covered by insurance, a ramp or lift so that an elderly or disabled individual who is homebound will find a measure of freedom, a plane ticket and a hotel room so that a parent can accompany her ill child who needs treatment in a faraway city. These are just a few of the many ways that the foundation has helped individuals and families in need. The foundation also operates programs for youth, including incentive programs in the schools — a hundred children from that program recently attended an HBO fight at the Barclays Center because of the effort they showed in school — and the Atlas Cops & Kids Boxing Program, which not only provides a refuge from the streets but also a teacher, Sarah Deming, who helps the participants with schoolwork and with preparing for life after school.

As an attorney, why did you decide to assist athletes?

I’m a boxing fan, and my job as an attorney allowed me a way to become involved in the sport I love.

Do you believe successful sports figures should give back? 

I believe that everybody should give back, or rather should give — and everybody of course includes athletes.

If you could change one thing about the sport, what would it be?

The two complaints that I hear most — and the complaints that I share — are that there are too many champions and too many unfair decisions which result in the wrong boxer having his or her hand raised at the end of a fight. I would like to see a single world champion in each weight division and I would like to be able to have trust that the winner of a fight will be the person who deserves the victory.

Who are your role models?

It might be a cliché but the answer is my parents. They instilled in me a sense of justice, a belief that it is important to treat people with respect, and a feeling that when you are doing a job it is important to do it right and to see it through to its proper end.

How would you like to be thought of?

As a person with integrity, a person who stands by his principles, a person who treats other people with respect, and in the context of my new position, a person who cares about boxers and about the integrity of the sport.

A story you’d like to share?

It’s a story of fear — my own — but also a story of being able to deal with that fear. I had a number of amateur fights, most of them when I was living in Florida for a year back in the mid-1990s. I was working out in an amateur boxing gym in Orlando, the Frontline Outreach Center; it is the gym where Antonio Tarver was training at the time as he made his way toward the Olympic Games in Atlanta. We worked out as a team, half an hour of calisthenics and then whatever Coach Lou Harris had planned for us for the day — sparring or circuit training or drills inside the ring or sprints outside on the track. When there was an amateur show, and these shows were often outside of Orlando, the coach used to put us in a van and drive us to wherever the show happened to be. The first time I fought it was in a town called Tarpon Springs, just outside of Clearwater, in a large gymnasium in a veterans’ hall. We weighed in and then we had time to kill as we waited for the show to begin. I tried to show a calm exterior but as I was sitting in the bleachers, waiting, Coach Lou came over to me and said that I didn’t have to fight if I didn’t feel ready. He saw my fear and he gave me a way out. I didn’t take the way out even though at that moment it was very tempting. But I knew, in my own mind, that I needed to face this challenge and face my fear, and thankfully my resolve allowed me to overcome my fear, to tell the coach that I was okay and I would fight. I stepped into the ring that day — and during that year I stepped into the ring on several other days and even won a Golden Gloves tournament in Central Florida — and I learned, in a way that you can only learn by doing, what fighters go through, mentally, emotionally, when they are preparing in their dressing rooms and when they step through those ropes to face an opponent. I think that personal perspective gives me an understanding about boxers that I might not otherwise possess and makes me better suited for my position as Executive Director of the New York State Athletic Commission.

Outside the Ring: David Berlin
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Outside the Ring: Allen Furst
Outside the Ring: Lonnie and Muhammad Ali
Outside the Ring: Bruce Silverglade

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

David Berlin | July 11, 2011

Iran Barkley vs Michael Olajide Part 1 of 2

Iran Barkley vs Michael Olajide Part 2 of 2

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  1. Anonymous 09:24am, 05/31/2016

    He got canned by the NYSAC Oh my!

  2. Chuck Williams 06:40am, 06/29/2014

    Well done Jill ... I had the chance to visit with David while WBC Supervisor for COTTO/MARTINEZ and found him to be a person who cares about boxing ...

    It would be fantastic if you might encourage David to attend the WBC 52nd Annual Convention at THE MIRAGE Las Vegas December 14-19, 2014 ... I believe he will come away with a better understanding of the functioning of a. Sanctioning Body and the open dialogue by participants ... Chuck

  3. Lisa 06:29am, 06/27/2014

    Dear Ms. Diamond, This is a marvelous interview and a great idea for a series. Thank you for launching it with one of the finest individuals I have the privilege to know. What a great gift to NY and “the sweet science” that David Berlin is the new NYSAC Commissioner!

  4. Claudia 08:50am, 06/26/2014

    Awesome!! How does one obtain an opportunity and qualifications to become apart of this great move of boxing.

  5. Michael Kenny 04:58am, 06/26/2014

    We always look for a fresh perspective and I know will have different results .You were t.000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

    The announcement of David Berlin to Boxing Commissioner is a breath of fresh air to the sport of boxing. David treats all involved parties in the game with dignity and respect. David has knowledge of all aspects of this sport and this can only be a positive for all parties in the sport. Especially the athletes that have entered the ring from years ago right up to the fighters entering the ring today . The retired fighters are never forgotten and have a friend for life in David Berlin.

    There are endless reasons why the premier choice for this position is David Berlin. With that in mind I’d like to wish him luck, and we as fans along with all parties of the sport of boxing should be ecstatic for the future of boxing.

  6. Bob 07:40pm, 06/25/2014

    Great work, Jill. Really enjoyed your introduction of Commissioner Berlin.

  7. Jill Diamond 05:54pm, 06/24/2014

    There are so many good people. And so many complicated people. Let their actions speak for themselves. I want to shine the light on the positive side of who we are, and what we aspire to.
    Thank you.

  8. andrew 10:17am, 06/24/2014

    It’s nice to read something positive and unpretentiously written.

  9. The Fight Film Collector 08:04am, 06/24/2014

    Ms. Diamond, permit me to take a we-are-not-worthy bow to you for excellent work on this interview.  Your Sports and Philanthropy concept is a brilliant one, and I look forward to hearing from more voices like David Berlin.

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