The long journey of 27-year-old Brian Banks to the ranks of the NFL was culminated today, as the Atlanta Falcons signed the 6-foot-2, 250-pound linebacker who was exonerated of rape charges just one year ago. For Banks, it’s a dream finally come true; for the Falcons is a can’t lose situation.
At one time Banks was a promising 16-year-old who had made a verbal commitment to USC, when his life was literally turned upside down by the accusations of rape from one of his Long Beach Poly high school classmates. The accusations led to a conviction and five years in prison followed by five years of probation.
Banks’ accuser eventually recanted her story and helped him clear his name, but the damage had been done. His conviction was overturned by a California court and Banks’ record cleared on May 12, 2012, but Banks was unsure he’d ever realize his dream of playing professional football.
But now Banks will have the opportunity to compete for a job playing inside linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons. He met with Falcons head coach Mike Smith at the team’s Flowery Branch facility on Wednesday.
“I had a really amazing one-on-one conversation with him,” Banks said. “He congratulated me and said he was happy for me to be here but this was just the beginning of a long road to making that next step and making that 53-man roster. We both agreed that I don’t expect any handouts or any favoritism. I’m here to work like everybody else and the result of my hard work will be whatever they deem necessary.
“All I can do is my best and however the turnout will be, I thank God for the opportunity.”
Banks will have the opportunity to put on the uniform of an NFL team, and compete on a level playing field with other men. Even if Banks never plays a down in a regular season game, he’s won–and the Falcons, who are the first NFL team to sign Banks, have won just by giving him that opportunity.
It’s hard not to pull for a story like Banks, as everyone wants to see a person who has unjustly suffered rise above the pain and humiliation to become a shining example for us all. Banks takes his opportunity to be a role model seriously, as he has become a spokesman for the California Innocence Project, a group who works to exonerate the wrongly accused.
Banks will begin the offseason workouts with the Falcons on April 22, and from that point on, it’s all up to Banks how far he goes.