Falcons Flyover: The Brian Banks Story

Kevin C. Cox

It is a great story.

For five, long years, Brian Banks sat in a jail cell for a crime he didn't commit. This week, a free and exonerated man, he signed an NFL contract with the Atlanta Falcons.

This is his story.

The Early Years

Banks grew up in California and developed a love for sports at a young age. By the time he reached 16, he had evolved into a bona-fide football star at Long Beach Poly High School. As a powerful, intimidating inside linebacker, Banks had performed well enough in his sophomore season to garner the attention of USC, which wished to give him a full scholarship to play for Pete Carroll.

At the time, scouts considered him to be physical beyond his years and incredibly fast for his size. Not only did he possess the acumen and skill set necessary to succeed at the collegiate level; he was good enough to develop into a professional.

Unfortunately, one major quandary would shatter these plans.

The Accusations

In the summer of 2002, a fellow student accused Banks of sexually assaulting her, sending shockwaves through the local community. The woman, Wanetta Gibson, claimed that Banks dragged her under a stairwell at their school and forced himself upon her. Due to the severity of the charges, he was looking at 41 years to life in prison. And due to the nature of this case, it was nearly impossible for him to prove his innocence.

Needless to say, fighting the charges had some serious risks.

In lieu of the aforementioned circumstances, Banks decided to take a plea no-contest on one count of rape, and was sentenced to six years in a state penitentiary.

His life as he knew it was over. His reputation was destroyed. His goal of playing in the NFL seemed all but crushed.

Freedom...Sort Of...

While Banks left prison in August of 2007 -- released early for good behavior -- it was difficult for him to feel like a free man for quite some time. Upon his release he was still a registered sex offender, had a felony record and even was forced to wear an electronic ankle brace.

Given all this, it was incredibly difficult for him to find a steady job. It wasn't until the truth came out that he was truly free.

The Truth Comes Out

In 2011, Banks' accuser contacted him via Facebook and asked if they could reconcile. He agreed to meet with her, and hired a private investigation firm to record their conversations. In these meetings the two had, the woman admitted her crime, and Banks finally had the evidence he needed for salvation.

In May of 2012, a Los Angeles county superior judge dismissed the convictions. When the judge informed Banks that all charges were dropped, the now 26-year-old broke down and sobbed at the stand.

He was finally free.

Getting Back Into Football

It had been more than a decade since Banks was able to play the game he loved so much, but that didn't stop him from trying once again to reach his ultimate goal. Due to his intensive conditioning, which included working out six days a week, he was in "football shape" when the charges against him were dropped.

And the first man to give him a chance at the NFL was the same who wanted to give him a college scholarship: Pete Carroll.

Now the head coach with the Seahawks, Carroll invited Banks for a tryout in Seattle last summer, bringing the former high school star closer to the NFL than he could have ever imagined in prison.

But the Seahawks ultimately chose not to give Banks a contract, nor did a handful of other teams that gave him tryouts.

Moving to Vegas

With the start of the NFL season, Banks remained a free agent. However, as well all know, the NFL is far from the only football league in the country. And with the clear ability to play at a professional level, the Las Vegas Locomotives of the UFL offered him a contract, giving him a job to be proud of for the first time in his life.

"As I pursue the #NFL, the #UFL will be a vessel to gain experience, and perpare me for a possible mid season pick up or next NFL season!" he wrote on Twitter.

Banks would only play two games with the Locomotives, recording just one tackle. But it was a start.

The Falcons Come Knocking

One of the teams that gave Banks a tryout back in 2012 was the Falcons. At the time, the organization was impressed with him, but was unable to offer him a spot on the roster.

The timing was bad, Atlanta brass said, but they promised to keep in touch. And they lived up to that promise.

The Falcons officially signed Banks to a contract on April 3, 2013. He will join the organization as a linebacker and will compete for a roster spot in the upcoming training camp.

His dream, finally, had come true.

"I can't believe this is happening," Banks said shortly after signing. "This is the biggest accomplishment of my life.

"But it is also just the beginning."

Looking Ahead

Banks' story is one that can evoke a wide range of emotions. The fact that he lost five years of his life to prison is sickening; and yet, at the same time, his comeback serves as inspiration -- not just for wrongly-accused convicts, but for anyone who faces adversity on the path towards success.

In an age when professional athletes often find themselves on the wrong side of the law, Banks provides us with a tale of the opposite narrative. And we really need that.

Best of luck, Brian. We're rooting for you.

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