By Teddy Atlas
“It is real or is it Memorex?” Remember that 1980’s commercial where the great Ella Fitzgerald sang a song then the same tune was played on a cassette and you were left with the question of which version was the real one.
There is a question being asked in this country right now of whether there is a real problem with Race issues. The recent killing of black men by white police asks the question, was it fear and lack of training or indifference. Either answer is unacceptable. The reprisal killing of five police officers in Dallas draws us toward anarchy.
Call me a naïve idealist, but I do not believe we are a racist country. Not because we elected a black president to two terms, I say this based on what my profession has shown and taught me for forty years.
I am in the boxing business. If you have ever watched a boxing match you have seen after the fight where each fighter, sometimes a black and a white, embrace in a showing of mutual respect. At that moment they don’t see themselves as a black or white man, but as two people, brothers if you will, who just tested themselves in the truest way one can.
In the way that asks if we are tough enough, good enough and honest enough to find out what we truly are.
A Racist could not withstand that test. The ring is not a drop point for anger, but rather a starting line for resolution, and at times redemption.
I have run a Foundation for the past twenty years that helps low income families with medical issues and run social programs to keep kids heading in the right direction in life. We simply step in and put up handicap ramps when needed, or pay for a surgery or treatment when the insurance will not. Some of the social programs are boxing gyms. There is no charge to the youth, only a few rules… bring a report card to gain entry, pull your pants up at the door, no sagging and go into the computer room one day a week so that the certified teacher on call can evaluate your school work.
When we began these programs we calculated that we had about a twenty percent High School graduation rate. Now it is around eighty percent. It is amazing how smart kids, black and white become when interested. Boxing is the carrot.
We have two paid coaches in each of our three gyms along with volunteers. The volunteers are policemen. The kids are taught how to take care of their bodies and how to defend themselves not just from jabs, hooks and right hands but from excuses.
What color they are, where they come from and how they were treated before they walk in our door is irrelevant. What they do with the knowledge and resources they are given is all that matters. As the sign says on the door; there is no sagging pants and no victims allowed. Only people who want a chance to find out how good they can be.
Many of the kids aspiring in the gym have no fathers; but in the gym they have surrogates, who instead of an allowance or a trip to a ballgame they give them discipline, rules and hope.
The coaches also give them care and attention, while boxing teaches them accountability. When a left hook slaps the side of their face they don’t blame the deliverer, they fault themselves for not keeping their right hand up. When they get tired, they don’t blame a half filled refrigerator at home, they do more roadwork and when they lose they don’t blame the ref, they ask their coach if they can go to the gym on Sunday.
They are winners. And they are Black, White, Latino and Asian. They fight everyday to be better, to be stronger and to be free. Free of ever having to ask themselves what if? We could all learn from them and in doing so perhaps understand what is truly real.
Teddy Atlas is a professional boxing trainer, ringside commentator for ESPN and the Olympics, President of the Dr. Atlas Foundation and author of Atlas: From the Streets to the Ring: A Son’s Struggle to Become a Man.