He learned the sport boxing under the tutelage of Hall of Fame trainer Cus D’Amato. He served as the chief second for boxing greats such as Mike Tyson, Michael Moorer, and Timothy Bradley. You know him as the outspoken voice of ESPN 2’s Friday Night Fights and Premier Boxing Champions. His foundation, named after his late father Dr. Theodore A. Atlas, is a New York-based community service organization that provides financial and emotional support to individuals and organizations in need, focusing particularly on the needs of children. Lo’s Gym Boxing Club of Cowen, West Virginia was one of the many community outreach organizations that benefited from the generosity of the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas foundation. In anticipation for the release of “12 Rounds in Lo’s Gym,” I decided to check in with the man who most clearly exemplifies my father’s ambitions as a boxing trainer — the incomparable Teddy Atlas.
During the early days of Lo’s Gym Boxing Club, my father often struggled to convince folks in our community that boxing could be used as a positive outreach. Boxing, as you know, caries with it a certain stigma. I would imagine that you have faced similar struggles during your years as a community organizer.
TA: That would be a big yes. A big big yes. I know your father’s frustrations. It sounds like we care about the same things. We’ve been on the same journey. The negativity is never from the participant’s part. It’s from people on the outside that really don’t know or understand our sport. They don’t understand what it can do when it is in the right hands. It’s a form of ignorance. I hate to use that word. But, it’s ignorance. Most are actually good meaning people that don’t mean to shed a negative light on something that really doesn’t deserve it. I would always try to educate folks. Not in a pompous way. I always felt it was important to educate the community on the urgency of the circumstances some of these kids face. But boxing is one of those sports. People fear it.
“12 Rounds in Lo’s Gym” is packed full of those kinds of stories. Care to share a few examples from your career?
TA: A few years ago, I had a meeting with this politician. We were trying to secure a half a million dollar grant for our gyms. We have 3 boxing gyms, all located in the projects. That’s, of course, where they need to be. It takes $50,000 a year to run one of these gyms so we could really use that money. Anyway, that politician, I won’t say his name, looked me right in my face and said “why should I help these kids, they don’t care about my family? They’d rob my family if they got the chance.” I let him talk and then I told him that he doesn’t understand these kids. He doesn’t understand their journey. I won’t deny, we sometimes get bloods and crips in the gym. We’ve had 10-year-old kids in the gym who sell crack, get locked up, and are back on the street in a few hours. I told him that these kids are from a different world than the one he lives in. Why should they care about him and his family? They don’t even know how to care about themselves. Then he looks me in my face and says, “why should I give money to something that kills brain cells?” So, I told him about this 14-year-old boy named Manny. He was disenfranchised with the world. He had a good family, a good hard working family but he didn’t have hope. He hung around gang bangers, drank a fifth of vodka a day. Now, after spending time in our gym, he’s four years clean. He has a job. He still boxes and is chasing that dream of becoming a world champion but his life is turned around. That’s what matters. Those stories are my success stories. Boxing pulls them back from the cliff. For some kids, their destiny is to go right off the cliff. And, why would they care about themselves? They’ve never been taught how to do that. Boxing saves people. I asked him if he’d rather Manny drink a fifth of vodka every day or take a few jabs to the headgear? We didn’t get the grant (followed by laughter).
In some ways, this was a difficult book to write. Unlike many boxing memoirs, “12 Rounds in Lo’s Gym” isn’t a rags-to-riches story. It’s the story of small town victories in a poor Appalachian community. As a boxing trainer and community organizer, do you find it difficult to communicate the importance of those not so easily recognizable victories to outsiders?
TA: People look at success the wrong way. Not everybody is going to be Floyd Mayweather. You aren’t always going to be faster, stronger, or even smarter than your opponent. But boxing can teach you how to be disciplined. It can teach you how to depend on yourself and hold yourself accountable. If your father got one kid off the streets, taught one kid self respect, helped one kid learn how to be accountable, then he can look himself in the mirror and know that he had a successful career as a boxing trainer. If he helped one kid find confidence and discipline he can know that he made a difference. He can know that book (“12 Rounds in Lo’s Gym”) has a happy ending.
Your “edge of the cliff” metaphor really speaks to me. The name of the building that housed Lo’s Gym was “The Edge.” We wanted to catch troubled kids before they went off the edge, so to speak.
TA: We use boxing as a carrot. We use boxing to give and teach the tools that have not been developed. We use it to give kids direction. It gives them purpose. It teaches kids how to follow a plan. It gives them a plan. It teaches them organization. It teaches discipline.
Once we get them hooked, they find confidence. They get pride. They don’t learn those things where they come from. It’s like a flower getting water. As a trainer, you get to watch the flower grow. I’m sure your father has seen that before. Some kids have nobody at home. No father figure. No mother figure. Nobody to say to them, “do your homework and we’ll go get an ice cream later.”
My father never made any of our boxers pay membership dues. He paid for each kid’s U.S.A. boxing license out of his own pocket, even bought boxing trunks and jerseys for the competitive fighters. His only stipulation was that fighters take part in community service activities (e.g. Lo’s Gym’s annual coat drive) to earn their “membership.” Donations from the Dr. Theodore Atlas Foundation allowed for him to do that sort of thing. It meant the world to my father.
TA: That’s great. We have three rules in our gym. First, you have to have a report card to get in. Second, you’ve got to pull up your pants. Third, you have to go and participate in school. We do incentive programs in the local schools. There is lots of abstract poverty, lots of problems. We try to be a surrogate parent. In September when school starts I go speak to the kids at school. I let them know that if they care I will care. They need to care about who they are, take ownership over who they are. Our boxers have to participate in school. They have to learn how you represent themselves the right way. And I tell them, when they do good I am going to come back to the school and drop off 100 tickets to a Yankees game, a Mets game, whatever. Boxing can give kids hope. That’s what we try to do and what your father tried to do. We want to help people.
Final question. After all of your years in the sport of boxing, how would you like to be remembered?
TA: I’d like to be remembered as a person who cared.
Thank you for your time, Teddy. You are an absolute credit to the sport of boxing.
TA: Tell your father he is a good man. Tell him guys like him make the world a little better for the rest of us. Good luck with the book, Dr. Snyder.
For more “Lo’s Gym” interviews, click HERE