Last week, Brian Banks was nobody—a criminal, the dregs of society. This week, Banks is preparing for an NFL tryout and attracting the attention of people around the country who want to see a second chance given to a young man who deserves it even more than most.
This is the redemptive power of football.
Ten years ago, Banks was a star linebacker at Long Beach Polytechnic High School. According to his Rivals profile, he had "high" interest in Michigan, and others have reported he had verbally committed to USC. He had also drawn interest from Wisconsin, Ohio State, California and a number of other prestigious programs.
Then, his world crumbled around him.
A childhood friend, Wanetta Gibson, leveled a charge of rape against Banks. The two had made out, but Gibson said it was more than that. She said he had forced himself on her and took her virginity. Gibson's parents acted quickly to press charges. Banks' attorney (using the term loosely) convinced him that he didn't have a chance in open court: “She told me I was a big black teenager,” he said (via Sporting News), “and no jury would believe anything I said.”
So, although he maintained his innocence and there was no evidence, Banks pleaded no contest to the charges.
Banks would spend five years in prison and another five with an ankle bracelet. Gibson would go on to sue the school district for $750,000 (a settlement she's likely to keep), and the only reason Banks was able to clear his name is because he was able to secretly record a conversation in which Gibson apologized.
Justin Brooks of the California Innocence Project (and now Banks' agent) took on Banks' case even though he was already out of prison. Since so much had been taken from Banks at a young age, Brooks felt it wasn't too late to get it all back.
Now, with his name cleared, it looks even more likely (via ESPN.com):
Banks...told ESPN columnist Rick Reilly that he'll work out with the Seattle Seahawks on June 7. The Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins also have called to talk to him about a tryout.
Think about that—the joy this must evoke. Think about the nights spent within prison walls, with his privacy gone and his pride shattered. All along, Banks knew he was innocent, and he knew that didn't matter. Being innocent had stolen his dreams, put him behind bars and ruined his future.
Everything was taken away; now, it's being given back.
To be honest, Banks is a long shot to make a roster. Ten years away from the game is a long time, and even if he's in the best shape of his life, that might not be any better than the hundreds of undrafted free agents and NFL veterans who are looking for work.
Still, Banks has a chance to get everything back—a chance not many walks of life would offer him. Winning a spot in the NFL won't repay him for the years spent wrongfully behind bars. He'll never get those 10 years of his past back.
But maybe, just maybe, this will heal some of his present wounds and give him that much more hope for a future—hope he deserves, hope he's earned.
Michael Schottey is an NFL Associate Editor for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He has professionally covered both the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions, as well as NFL events like the scouting combine and the Senior Bowl.
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