ANDERSON – A former Anderson resident will be standing right on the sidelines during Super Bowl LI, but it won’t be as a fan.
Instead of looking for the next big play, Dr. Spero Karas will be looking for injuries. Karas has been the head team physician for the Atlanta Falcons, who will be facing the New England Patriots for the NFL championship on Sunday.
Karas lived in Anderson until about age 12 when he moved with his family to Pendleton. He competed in football, track and field and wrestling during the school year, and he played baseball during the summer.
“My poor mom and dad were hopping me around to fields and gyms constantly (during his childhood),” he said. “No surprise, I ended up with a career in sports medicine.”
When he wasn’t practicing or competing as a kid, he was working at his dad’s Greek family restaurant in Anderson called the Red Brick Inn.
When he went off to college at Notre Dame, Karas was a varsity wrestler. Through college and medical school at Indiana University, he played rugby.
“There comes an age when we all retire (from playing sports),” he said. “The back and the hamstrings just can’t take it anymore.”
But even though he stopped playing sports, he didn’t leave sports. Through his medical studies and residency at Duke University, he honed his love for sports medicine.
Karas joined the faculty at Emory University in Atlanta in 2005. There, he worked as a doctor for many high school and collegiate sports, as well as the city’s National Basketball Association and Women’s National Basketball Association teams.
But being a head doctor for the NFL was the dream.
“When you go out and pave your way as a sports medicine specialist, this is kind of one of those top jobs,” Karas said.
In 2010, the Falcons were hiring a new head team doctor, and Karas got the job. The career move is one that many doctors have late in their career, and at 44, Karas was the youngest head doctor in the NFL.
Now, he spends the entire season with the team, from Combine at the end of February through the last game of the year. With the Falcons competing in the Super Bowl this year, the offseason for the doctors and the players will be less than a month.
“It makes for a long season, but it’s super gratifying for coaches and players for all the work they put in,” he said.
During the game, Karas said he generally hangs around the 30-yard line on whichever side of the field the team is on. He is watching for any potential injuries that may happen.
“We are there to observe the game,” he said. “We’re not cheerleaders; we’re not coaches; we’re not fans. But if a player goes down, I’m running onto the field.”
The medical staff also has access to immediate video playbacks, which helps particularly with concussion protocol. Karas said he can see how a player’s head was hit or if the head was hit at all instead of a shoulder hit jerking the head back.
Since Karas lives in his medical NFL world, he said it is easy to separate what’s best for the player compared to what is best for the team. Being a doctor first is Karas’ game now.
“If you always keep in your mind the top priority is the health of the player, you separate yourself from the emotional part of it or how it is going to impact the team,” he said. “Ultimately, I’m the doctor for the team, but when a player is hurt, we are always the doctor and the advocate for the player.”
By Devan Filchak for The Herald Bulletin