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Foundation a true passion for Teddy Atlas

Teddy Atlas, joined by his longtime ESPN broadcast partner Joe Tessitore, is passionate about helping others through his foundation. Joe Faraoni/ESPN

It has been less than two weeks since ESPN boxing analyst Teddy Atlas made a triumphant return to the role in which he first made his name: as a trainer.

In his first fight with welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley, Atlas made headlines not just by how thoroughly dominant his fighter was in knocking out Brandon Rios, but by the theatrics Atlas showed between rounds.

Atlas was his usual self -- passionate, colorful and refreshingly honest -- as he showcased his gifts as a master motivator to lift Bradley up to a level not seen in recent fights. But for fans of Atlas' work over the past 17 years on "Friday Night Fights," and beginning this year, on the monthly "PBC on ESPN" telecasts, it was par for the course.

But to assume that, outside of his family, boxing is the lead passion of Atlas' life would be incorrect. If you want to get to know a side of Atlas rarely seen on television and a chance to literally hear his heart speak, just ask him about his charity work.

That's where you'll see a much softer side to Atlas emerge. That familiar passion is still as prevalent as ever, but it's a side of the veteran trainer that's fueled by love and purpose for something that has become a calling of sorts in his life.

Atlas, 59, founded The Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation in 1997 as a way to honor the memory of his late father, a physician in Atlas' native Staten Island, New York, who provided free medical care to those who couldn’t afford it.

In fact, Atlas' father, who passed away in 1993 at the age of 88, was so dedicated to providing personal care to his patients that he made house calls until he was 80.

It's in the spirit of his father that Atlas created the foundation as a way to give back in the same manner.

"Over the last 19 years we have given over $5 million to families that fall through the cracks and don't have the ability to take care of their families and children because of medical costs," Atlas told ESPN.com.

"Whatever it is -- handicap ramps, surgeries where insurance doesn't cover it -- we step in and take care of those things. We fly them out of state when they need to or help to create different programs where they don't have them available where they are."

Atlas' foundation also runs social programs in schools for at-risk students where, with improved behavior, they can earn privileges like tickets to professional sporting events.

"We drop off 500 tickets at their school for Yankees, Mets, Knicks or Nets games and they are chosen by their behavior," Atlas said. "Then we supply the buses and they go on their trip. Most of these kids don't have fathers so this way they have incentive to start to care about who they are."

The foundation's primary fundraising event is the annual "Teddy" dinner, which will be held this Thursday at the Hilton Garden Inn in Staten Island, featuring a silent and live auction.

The dinner also boasts an impressive who's who of athletes and celebrities who attend each year and help raise money. This year features Alex Rodriguez, Tony Danza, Rosie Perez, Amani Toomer and Curtis Martin. Atlas' colleagues at ESPN will also be well-represented, including Stephen A. Smith, Sal Paolantonio, Steve Levy, Todd Grisham, Robert Smith and many others.

You can hear the appreciation in Atlas' words when he talks about the names who have lent their time and resources to help the cause he believes in. But that's nothing compared to hearing him talk about how much the foundation has raised for those in need.

"What's significant about the $5 million, to be honest, it that it's pure money and there’s no administrative cost," Atlas said. "I have one paid employee and I have one office and nobody else gets paid. So maybe 99 percent of the money and nearly every dime goes to these cases."

Atlas, who is expecting nearly 1,000 people, is hoping the 2015 dinner will be another success and another sellout. For more information, check out the foundation's website: http://dratlasfoundation.com/events/teddy-dinner/.