The Brian Banks Story Tells Us Something About American Society Today

Vincent Frank@VincentFrankNFLCorrespondent IJune 13, 2012

Courtesy of USA Today
Courtesy of USA Today

I was in Long Beach when the Brian Banks story broke last month. The details of it put myself, and many others, through a great deal of different emotions. Compassion for a falsely accused man, anger directed at his accuser, and even more ire directed at the American justice system.

It was Machiavellian philosophy that placed Banks, a former top recruit of USC, in the scrapheap of American society. As a teenager he was accused of rape and kidnapping a classmate, one of the most vile crimes that a human being can be accused of. Banks' attorney suggested that he plead out so that the young man did not spend the rest of his natural life in jail.

The client followed the order of his lawyer and spent years in prison for a crime that we now know he did not commit.

How do we know that? His accuser, whose name isn't even worth mentioning here, contacted Banks via Facebook and admitted to making the entire story up. After nearly a decade of being a convicted rapist, a couple years as a "free man" on the sexual predator list, Banks finally had his name cleared.

What does this tell us about the American justice system? How is it Machiavellian in essence? And, what exactly does this have to do with professional sports in the modern era?

Our justice system is supposed to be predicated on the idea that 100 guilty men should go free before one innocent man is thrown into jail for a crime he did not commit. That is an idea that remains flawed to this day, but it is also indicative of the best justice system in the world.

Courtesy of Stanford University
Courtesy of Stanford University

It is Machiavellian in essence. The weak, those not in a position of power, can fall through the cracks as long as the betterment of society as a whole is served.

Now, how can a football player or million dollar athletes be considered weak? After all, they do represent the power elite in our society. Well, it is their fame that has made them weak.

We currently exist in an era of America where there is a popular trend towards discounting what athletes do because of their perceived lack of intelligence or inability to follow the law. This is only magnified when we hear about the latest DUI arrest or sexual misconduct accusation around the world of professional sports.

These athletes are envied by a majority of society. Men see their fame, wealth and lavish lifestyle and are taken aback. Women see them father children at record clips, womanize their way through American night clubs and they are disgusted. In general terms, it is justifiable envy. 

Why can't we have a piece of their enormous pie? What makes them better than us? Don't tell me that this has never popped into your head more than once.

While many of us think about this in a broader context of American society, there are some that use the vulnerability of these athletes to their benefit.

Brian Banks' accuser is a prime example of it, but she isn't alone.

Equally as amoral as rape is to falsely accuse someone of that crime. Women might do this for a multitude of different reasons, but as it relates to the professional sports sector of society, it is all about money.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 05:  Chad Ochocinco #85 of the New England Patriots waits on the field during warmups before the New England Patriots take on the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indi
Elsa/Getty Images

How much did Kobe Bryant have to pay his accuser for a crime that he was not convicted of? Well, it was unspecified for a reason. An educated guess would suggest millions.

What about Ben Roethlisberger and his recent bout with the law? Charges weren't even brought because the district attorney lacked necessary evidence to move forward. That being said, one could come to the simple conclusion that his accuser received a financial windfall from the case.

I am not writing this to be a judge of whether Kobe or Ben committed these alleged crimes. After all, that is what the justice system is for and under that guise they didn't commit a crime.

Both athletes were guilty of bad judgment. Bryant committed adultery by cheating on his wife. Roethlisberger put himself in the situation to be accused of such a crime by drinking to levels that most of us could scarcely imagine. This doesn't mean that either were guilty of rape. Rather, it just means that they lacked the necessary judgment to avoid such situations.

What's to stop another professional athlete from being accused of rape in the future? After all, it appears that Banks' accuser isn't going to face charges for falsely accusing him of rape, kidnapping and sodomy, and then lying to authorities about it.

This might be a bad analogy, but it is kind of like going to the casino and betting with house money. What's to stop a money-grubbing woman from accusing another athlete of rape if she isn't going to face repercussions? Nothing.

The Race Card

Many assume that we live in a post-racial America simply because we elected an African-American president less than four years ago. That couldn't be further from the truth and mainstream media ignores this.

We hear stories about black athletes being arrested for various crimes. Whether it is Rae Carruth committing murder-for-hire or someone else breaking the law, this is played on never-ending reels throughout the news world.

Courtesy of the Prison Policy Initiative
Courtesy of the Prison Policy Initiative

However, for every Carruth and O.J. Simpson, there is another 1,000 African-American athletes who represent exactly what it means to be an upstanding citizen of the United States. Do we hear their stories? No.

Instead, the focus of good news is directed at the likes of Drew Brees, who represents the double-standard of the media. Brees is a great community mind in his own right, but is he really that much better than say Chad Ochocinco? Do we hear stories about what the enigmatic wide receiver of the Miami Dolphins does on a consistent basis within communities around the globe? No.

See, it is all about perception. Surely, an African-American football player must be guilty of rape if he is accused of it, right? This is the situation that Brian Banks found himself in over 10 years ago in Long Beach, a city with just a 15 percent African-American population.

How much do you want to bet this played into his decision to plead out? How many of his "peers" were going to be Caucasian? See, it appears that Banks was already convicted in the court of public opinion simply because he was a black football player accused of a horrendous crime.

This might seem ignorant, but think about it for a second. As a Caucasian male in Northern California, I wouldn't have to worry too much about this if I were accused of a crime. The justice system would choose peers that probably had the same upbringing and background as me. In short, I would get a fair trial outside of the court of public opinion.

Banks wasn't that lucky simply because of the sport that he played and the color of his skin.

That being said, the holes in this ideal are vast in nature and stunning in reality. The numbers of African-American men that are put in jail for crimes that they did not commit is completely out of bounds compared to the same statistics from the power elite Caucasian majority. The amount of African-American in jail per 100,000 citizens is more than six times than that of Caucasians.

Just look at the state of Texas. A recent report by Justice Policy indicates that, despite the fact that minorities make up just 25 percent of the states population, they make up nearly 70 percent of those imprisoned in Texas.

This number is clearly disproportionate to the difference in crimes committed by minorities in the state of Texas.

It is time that American's step up and stop following the sheep down a limitless one way street to ignorance. Yes, professional athletes are reaping the rewards of a glamorous lifestyle. Yes, many of them don't hold morality up on a pedestal like you or I might. Yes, a number of them are criminals.

That being said, they are still vulnerable to slander and false accusations. They are targets of those individuals who envy the way they live. And, they are for the most part minorities who are consistently thrown to the wolves by the American justice system.

No amount of money can stop the racism that is seemingly embedded in American society. No amount of fame can deter a false accusation. And, no set of values can eradicate the notion that African-American football players are dangerous thugs.

If nothing else, this Brian Banks story should wake us up to the issues that are currently taking place in our nation and around the professional sports world. It is just too bad that 10 years of his life had to be thrown away for this to become a paramount issue in our culture.