No Novocaine for This Tough Son

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This morning in the car, I listened to Scott Simon interview a man who sounded tough. Turned out it was Teddy Atlas, a former boxer and trainer who had stories to tell.

When Atlas was a kid, his father was a well-known doctor. He got a bad cut, and was taken to his dad’s office. Most patients usually had to wait about four hours to see the doc, but the nurses assumed that Tony would go right in and be treated. No way. His doctor dad made him wait four hours too…then when he was going to treat him, they gave him a novocaine-filled syringe to apply before he put in the stitches. “No, no, he doesn’t need that,” his dad told the nurse. “If he wants to play rough, he’s gotta learn to take the punishment.”

Atlas talked about Mike Tyson, his one-time fighter client, whom he trained. Tyson was 190 lbs when he was in grade school, and was a notoriously bad kid. He would go into the lunchroom at 10 am and demand food. When he was refused, he’d throw milk cartons at the poor old ladies, and often threaten other little kids. He’d steal their lunch money and he instilled fear in everyone. Atlas refused to let him into the gym, trying to show that there was an effect of bad behavior. But Cus D’amato, the other trainer, would sneak Tyson in, regardless of how bad he was.

Later in life, Atlas heard from one of his father’s patients that his dad had spoken highly of “his son the trainer.” That was as close as Teddy Atlas ever got to being recognized and told he was loved by his dad. “I told him I loved him when he was dying,” Atlas said. “I don’t know if he was conscious, but it was the best I could do.”