Brian Banks spent five years in prison for a crime he didn't commit before he was exonerated. It's fair to say that when he was released from prison in 2012, playing in the NFL was a longshot.
A star high school linebacker who had committed to USC, Banks was accused of rape and kidnapping and took a plea deal to avoid what would have been an extremely long prison term. When the California Innocence Project took on his case and his accuser recanted and he was set free, Banks decided to give the NFL another shot. He worked out with multiple teams last June but didn't break camp with anyone. At that point, you might have assumed that Banks' NFL dream was over, but at least he had his freedom at last. But even now, at 27 years old and away from full-time football since 2002, Banks would not let that dream die.
He's not a lock to make the final roster. He's not even a lock to make it out of training camp. But the Falcons thought enough of Banks' ability and drive that they've signed him to a contract, giving him a shot to make the team as a linebacker.
Gang, I'm reporting the best scoop I could ever report: my man FINALLY has his dream back: Falcons have just signed @brianbanksfree!!!!— Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer) April 3, 2013
This is an extremely short summation of a fairly remarkable story, and one that doesn't really do justice to the level of commitment Banks has to football. I can't easily imagine sitting in prison, knowing you've been unjustly imprisoned and watching your prime football-playing years tick away, and keeping yourself in the kind of shape you would need to in order to still play football at the highest level. It's inspiring.
On a football level, this gives the Falcons a guy with everything to prove and undeniable talent a chance to stick as a reserve linebacker on a team in desperate need of help at the position. If Banks can show the coaching staff enough this summer, he shouldn't have much trouble beating out Robert James for a role. I'm glad for that reason and for Banks that the Falcons are willing to give him the shot, and I hope he sticks. It's easy to root for the man.