Sunday, January 27, 2008

Two Sides to Atlas, But He's His Own Man

I've been following the ongoing saga with Teddy Atlas and his seven day suspension from his position as a color analyst with ESPN2 Friday Night Fights with a keen interest as to what will come of it all.

If you know Teddy Atlas, you know there's two sides to the man. There's the side that is abrasive and ornery and that would never back down from a confrontation. It's the side that once counted former New York City mafia characters John Gotti and Sammy The Bull" Gravano as close associates. It's the same side of Atlas that once held a gun to a young Mike Tyson's head and also had laid out plans to murder former world champion Donny LaLonde. It's the same Teddy Atlas that has a scar that runs down the entire side of his face - compliments of being on the wrong end of a knife.

The other side of Teddy Atlas is a tireless charitable giver, a husband and father and a man of great integrity. Through the "Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation" named after his father and which he created, Atlas is the head of a charitable organization which helps those who can't help themselves. Atlas sees to it that the needy are cared for, given the basics to eke out a meager existence and he does it all without ever expecting anything back. His annual fund raising dinner has grown tremendously over the past several years and as it has expanded Atlas has been able to give more and more to those that need it the most.

Atlas admits that he has a temper that gets the best of him and certainly he has been known to fly off the handle when something takes place that he doesn't agree with. However, Atlas is a man with the best of intentions who more often than not, is acting to right something that he perceives to be a wrong.

From his perch in the corner, Atlas intently watches the action in the ring.

In his 2006 book, simply titled "Atlas" he describes who he is. "I can be sensitive and compassionate and giving to the point where it's almost too much. If somebody has needs and problems, I get moved and affected so much it almost controls me, that's how much I feel compelled to help. At the same time, if somebody acts disloyal, if they betray me, and then try to avoid taking responsibility, if they hide behind the excuses of convenience or weakness or selfishness, I'll go to a place of wanting to hurt them. I'll be ready to give up everything to right what I consider a wrong - even though I know that my response might not be socially acceptable."

Throughout this industry known as boxing it's rare that you find a person with deep moral convictions and an internal code that steers toward truth. For the most part, boxing is a cut-throat business with an every man for himself attitude. Like some sort of drifting ship it lacks a compass - a moral one. Even now, decades after the late, great, fight writer Jimmy Cannon wrote the infamous sentence describing boxing as "the red light district of sports" it still holds true.

I don't know the exact details of what led Teddy Atlas to be suspended from his ESPN position - and it's not the first suspension he has served while working for the network. However, I do know that it's what multi-national corporations do when they need a little time to think things over and sort out a situation. ESPN, of course, is owned by The Walt Disney Company and they don't come much bigger or more multi-national than that.

What I know is that Atlas got into some sort of confrontation with a person named Doug Loughrey who apparently decides what fights get the nod and then ultimately appear on the ESPN2 Friday Night Fights telecasts. Atlas perceived that something shady and under-handed was taking place with Loughrey's decision making process. Whether it was favoritism, poor judgment or something more sinister on Loughrey's part, we may never know. However, Atlas perceived something was amiss and to him it was beginning to reek like a dank sewer.

The long and the short of it is that Atlas spoke up and said something about it.

Now, some people may not agree with Atlas' methods or his approach to sorting out what he sees as a problem, but that's Atlas. He's not a diplomat and he's not the type of person to sit in the backgound and not speak up when he sees something that isn't right.

Everybody knows that Atlas is outspoken and that has has chastised the fighters he has trained and that he has tirelessly lectured to them about the outcome of the choices they make. But what you need to know is that it's something that Atlas did for their benefit in the hopes that it would make them, firstly, into a better person and secondly into a better fighter. Everybody knows that Atlas will criticize a match-up, on his own network no less, if it is poor matchmaking or a bad fight that shouldn't have been made. Atlas is one of the few people that you will encounter in life that has the courage to speak his mind.

Simply put, my experience in the presence of Teddy Atlas has been this - What you see is what you get, and there aren't too many types of people like that around anymore.

Ever the teacher and disciplinarian, Atlas works the pads in the gym.

Atlas' strong moral fiber has caused him to walk away from situations that he didn't have the power to change or that he disagreed with. He left millions of dollars on the table when he decided to no longer continue training a young Mike Tyson. Atlas disagreed with the manner in which Cus D'Amato allowed Tyson to get away with transgressions and Atlas decided to leave as Tyson's trainer. Atlas also had a long and tumultuous relationship, although very successful, with former heavyweight champion Michael Moorer. But eventually, that became another untenable situation where Atlas decided to leave when he saw that Moorer refused to make the best use of his talents.

Say what you will about Atlas, and many don't agree with his outspoken manner, but the one word that continues to come up when you ask someone to describe Teddy Atlas is "integrity".

Atlas trained actor Willem Dafoe for the 1989 movie, "Triumph of the Spirit" and in Atlas' 2006 biography, written with Peter Alson, Dafoe describes Atlas this way: "Teddy Atlas taught me a lot about human nature through boxing. That world that he loves so much conspired to corrupt and compromise him at every turn, yet he never took a dive. His plainspoken struggle to keep his integrity is heroic...inspiring."

Certainly Atlas did not act to serve his own self interests when he opened up this entire can of worms. Ask yourself these questions: What would Atlas have to gain by getting fired from a plum position with the largest sports network on the planet? What would Atlas have to gain in being suspended and making headlines that he had a verbal confrontation with a fellow employee?

The answer is that Atlas gains nothing personally, except maybe he can sleep through the night knowing that he decided to shed some light into a dark corner.

Strangely, ESPN has been silent regarding this developing situation and it reminds me of the old line, "Cockroaches scurry when the light is shone on them."

The ESPN network proudly calls itself "The worldwide leader in sports."

How they handle this situation will be a good chance to prove it.

January 2008

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