The Atlanta Falcons have had a number of blockbuster acquisitions this off-season. Aside from the return of Tony Gonzalez, they have managed to sign Steven Jackson and Osi Umenyiora. However, when it comes to the significance of life on and off the field, Wednesday’s signing of Brian Banks may be the most intriguing – and heartwarming.
At the age of 17, Brian Banks’ future seemed bright. He had just finished his junior year of high school at Long Beach Polytechnic and had committed to the University of Southern California as one of the top linebacker recruits in the nation. But Banks would never make it to USC. Instead, he would soon see his hopes and dreams – along with the next 10 years of his life – taken away from him.
In 2002, a classmate accused Banks of rape and kidnapping. Despite negative DNA tests and his insistence of innocence, Banks was urged by his lawyer to plead no contest for fear of an unfair trial and to avoid a possible 41 year prison sentence. Banks obliged and was convicted, spending 5 years in prison and 5 more on parole.
But last year, his accuser unexpectedly contacted him, which led to a meeting where she admitted to lying about the alleged rape. Soon after, he would be exonerated of any crimes, as a judge threw out his wrongful conviction. An emotional Banks had finally cleared his name after years of suffering.
Banks’ 10 year horror story would soon become a story of redemption. Despite his tragic circumstances, he decided to pursue his dream of playing professional football. After trying out for a few NFL teams in 2012, he was invited to take part in the Seattle Seahawks minicamp. Although he didn’t make the team, he would eventually sign with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League, marking the first time he had played in a football game of any type in nearly a decade.
The next chapter of Banks redemption story began on Wednesday, as he once again has a shot to live out his NFL dream with the Atlanta Falcons. The 27-year-old linebacker will now participate in the team’s off-season training activities in three weeks – the first step in his attempt to make the 53-man roster.
While he could prove to be a valuable commodity for a team that lacks depth at linebacker, Banks is definitely not a shoe-in to make the team. Despite checking in at 6’2, 250 lbs, he has still only played one year of football since his junior year of high school. He will have to put in an unprecedented amount of work to prove that he has the ability to play in the NFL.
If Banks doesn’t make the team, at least he was given an opportunity to live out the dream that was once taken away from him. But if he’s able to turn that dream into a reality, it will be the culmination of an amazing journey out from the depths of tragedy.