Tonight, in an effort to stay cool and delay going down into the oppressively hot subways, I attended a book signing at the Borders Books store in Columbus Circle (stores in ritzy neighborhoods tend to keep their thermostats set at Arctic levels).
The book signing (and reading) was by boxing trainer and commentator Teddy Atlas who, working with writer Peter Alson, has just published his autobiography, Atlas: From the Streets to the Ring.
During the course of his career Atlas has moved through every level of society, working with the famous and infamous, the beautiful and the ugly, dancers and athletes, doctors and executives, underprivileged kids and hardened criminals. He’s known gentleness and viciousness, redemption and damnation, punched hard, dried tears, heard as many confessions as a priest, felt the power of love and the damage of indifference.
He arrived late, delayed by taping a TV segment at Brooklyn’s Gleason’s Gym and, apologizing profusely, read a long passage from the book. Then, fielding questions from knowledgeable fight fans, he spoke about his work with young boxers, the “Golden Age” of the sport (in his opinion, the 1920s – 1950s), why today’s fighters don’t measure up to their predecessors and why he isn’t working for HBO.
Just before he began signing books, this unmistakably tough guy said something that struck a chord with me. He spoke about fear. Atlas, who is certainly in a position to know, says that all fighters are afraid. Even the men who appear to be the toughest, the most fearless, are scared to climb into the ring. The trainer’s job isn’t to teach the boxer how to stop feeling fear (an impossible goal), but rather, how to live with his fear.
“They’re all afraid,” said Atlas. “Do you think there’s one of them that wouldn’t rather go get an ice cream than fight? They can’t stop being afraid, but they can learn not to show it. They learn to accept it and deal with it and not let it stop them.”