It's a story that's almost too surreal to be believed, but for the newest member of the Atlanta Falcons, it was all too real.
For linebacker Brian Banks, the past decade has been a nightmare. He went from a highly recruited high school junior in Long Beach, California to accused of rape by a woman he's known since middle school.
That accusation produced charges of rape and kidnapping. Those charges produced a plea that Banks agreed to after his defense attorney told him he faced 40 years in prison if convicted at trial.
Just like that, Banks was a convicted felon. His freedom was gone. His dreams of playing in the NFL were replaced by a life behind bars.
As Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, Banks served 62 months in prison and then another five years on parole as a registered sex offender before receiving the most bizarre Facebook friend request in history.
That friend request was from his accuser, Wanetta Gibson, who wanted to "hang out."
I told you the story was surreal.
On hidden camera, Banks was able to get Gibson to admit that she had concocted the entire story. There had been no rape. No kidnapping. It was all a lie told for reasons that only Gibson knows.
In July of 2012, Banks was officially exonerated. At that point, he began working out in earnest in the hopes of resurrecting his football career. However, as Banks told Schultz, at this point any victories on the playing field take a backseat to his biggest one off it:
“I’ve already won,” he said. “I got my freedom back. To be stripped of your freedom, to be stripped of your dignity and the respect you once had, to lose it all and then see life pass you by while you’re sitting inside a prison cell, to wake up one day and get it all back, it’s a very humbling feeling.”
Banks worked out for the Atlanta Falcons just before the 2012 season and the Seattle Seahawks as well as some other teams had him in for a tryout, but there were no takers. Banks then signed with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League, but got to play in only two games before the league folded.
Now Banks is getting another shot with the Falcons, who signed him to a contract on Wednesday (per D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
Admittedly, he's the longest of long shots to make the 53-man roster. Banks was a 16-year-old boy when his life was destroyed by Gibson's unfathomable act. He'll be 28 in July. The odds of him coming back after that much time away from the game are staggering.
Of course, there isn't much about Brian Banks' story that isn't staggering.
With that said, Banks was a talented young linebacker in high school, a player with 4.56 speed who had generated strong interest from both the University of Southern California and Michigan, according to Rivals.com.
The talent was there once. Unfortunately, that was a long time ago and there's no telling if Banks can recapture it.
However, even taking into consideration the public relations aspect of signing Banks (and let's be frank, there is one), the Falcons wouldn't have signed Banks to a contract if he hadn't shown some ability.
Will it be enough to get Banks on the team? Probably not, although just making the practice squad would be nothing short of a colossal achievement.
However, that's not the real story of Brian Banks. What happens over the next few months in Atlanta won't define Banks any more than he wanted the last decade to, according to Schultz:
In prison, Banks became a voracious reader. He even read the dictionary and a thesaurus. The idea was to prepare himself for life outside of a cell and public speaking. “I studied and grew as a man so that the situation of being wrongly accused wouldn’t define me,” he said.
Brian Banks is man whose life was ripped from him, who saw his dreams of a college education and playing in the NFL replaced by a prison sentence and the stigma of life as a convicted rapist.
He knew he was innocent and yet didn't let these cruel circumstances destroy him. He persevered. He survived.
We should all be rooting for Brian Banks to make it in the NFL, but at the end of the day, he's much more than just a football player.
He's a testament to the strength of the human spirit.
And that's all you really need to know about him.