Teddy Atlas grew up in Staten Island, the son of physician Dr. Theodore Atlas, who founded two local hospitals and was widely known in the community for his charitable work.
He attended elementary school at PS 27, and later Curtis High School, his father’s alma mater. Teddy’s interest in boxing developed in his mid-teens, when he started to work out at the Police Athletic League and fought in organized amateur matches.
At the same time, Atlas was hanging out in the streets and getting into fights. He participated in an armed robbery, was arrested and spent some time on Rikers Island. Childhood friend Kevin Rooney was training with the legendary Cus D’Amato in Catskill and arranged for Atlas to come train with him while awaiting his trial. Atlas lived and trained with D’Amato for a year and won the Adirondack Golden Gloves amateur boxing tournament.
When Teddy’s case came to trial, D’Amato spoke on his behalf, and Atlas was released into his custody. Unfortunately, he was soon diagnosed with an injury that ended his hopes for a professional boxing career. Though D’Amato encouraged him to stay and become a trainer, the disappointed Atlas left Catskill. Back in Staten Island he found himself drifting into old patterns.
A couple of neighborhood kids, knowing Atlas’ reputation for boxing, asked him to help them train. Teddy agreed, and although they trained in less than ideal circumstances – working out in local parks with borrowed equipment – Atlas imposed the discipline and structure necessary to allow his new charges to develop as amateur fighters. Given his success, he began to understand why D’Amato had urged him to become a trainer. But when he wasn’t training, Atlas continued to fall into his previous ways. One altercation left him with a knife wound that required 400 stitches and left a permanent scar on his face.
When one of the boys he had been training told Teddy that the local street toughs were planning to kill him and offered to go with him on a pre-emptive strike, Atlas experienced a seismic change in attitude. He refused to risk his friend’s safety, a decision which allowed him to change his own pattern of violence. He returned to Catskill, taking his two protégés with him, and ran Cus D’Amato’s gym, training professionals during the day and youth from the community in the evening. Atlas ran the gym for six years, but eventually parted ways with D’Amato because of a dispute involving Mike Tyson, whom Atlas had been developing in the gym for four years along with his other fighters.
Thus began Teddy Atlas’ career as a trainer. He has worked with some of the greatest fighters of our time, including Mike Tyson, Barry McGuigan, Wilfredo Benitez, Simon Brown, Shannon Briggs and, most notably, Michael Moorer, who twice won the heavyweight title with Atlas in his corner. As Atlas’ reputation grew, he caught the attention of dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp, and trained her for her successful comeback at age 42. Later, he trained members of the American Ballet Theatre for a piece called Everlast, which was staged at the Metropolitan Opera House. He also trained with New York Ranger Steve Patrick, teaching him how to fight effectively on the ice. Atlas trained actor Willem Dafoe for his role as a boxer in the holocaust film Triumph of the Spirit, and while on location in Poland, choreographed the film’s boxing scenes and appeared as one of Dafoe’s opponents. He also choreographed fight scenes for the television series “Against the Law”. And he appeared in the movies Gloria, Play it to the Bone and Only in America: The Don King Story.
In 1998, Atlas embarked on a new career as a color commentator for ESPN’s Friday Night Fights, and also worked ESPN’s Tuesday Night Fights and later Wednesday Night Fights during the summer seasons. He has also worked as boxing commentator on NBC for the Olympics in Sydney in 2000, Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008.
Atlas was an Assistant Coach with the New York Jets football team from 2006 to 2008, giving boxing lessons to improve the players’ hand and foot speed, and giving motivational speeches and classes to better prepare the team for the pressure situations where emotions must be properly controlled. Atlas has also worked with the St. Louis Rams of the NFL and spoken to the Nebraska College football team.
Atlas has also employed his talent as a motivational speaker at universities, high schools, gang intervention programs organized by the NYPD, and in prisons. He has given one-day seminars at NYU, Fordham University, Adelphi University, St. John’s University, Fairfield University and Wagner College in sports psychology and sports management.
EA Sports, the largest producer of video games, has procured Teddy’s services as color commentator for its new boxing video game, Fight Night: Round Four. It will be released in the summer of 2009.
In 1996, Teddy Atlas established the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that, in large ways and small, comes to the assistance of people in need. The Foundation operates a food pantry, gives away turkeys on Thanksgiving and toys on Christmas, runs incentive programs in schools and sponsors a basketball league. It helps literally thousands of individuals and families in difficult times – paying for medical insurance, purchasing medical equipment, making a home handicapped-accessible, buying a headstone, helping in any way that is appropriate in a given situation. The Foundation has given away over three million dollars to help the less fortunate among us and has done so in such a way as to preserve the dignity of the people receiving help, without red tape and with a discrete check to validate a particular need.
In 2000, Teddy Atlas was awarded the NFL Helping Hands award for his charity work.
In 2006, Harper Collins published Teddy’s autobiography, Atlas: From the Streets to the Ring: A Son’s Struggle to Become a Man.
Teddy Atlas lives in Staten Island with his wife Elaine, and their children Nicole and Teddy.