It’s not everyday that a football player makes headlines for one tackle and some insignificant playing time in a preseason game. But few football players have trekked the rocky path of Atlanta Falcons linebacker Brian Banks.
In 2002, Banks was accused and convicted of rape, a crime that allegedly took place when Banks was 16, and the accuser, Wanetta Gibson, was 15. Banks proclaimed his innocence and Gibson seemed inclined to change her story. Unfortunately, a runaway train of adult influence behind Gibson pushed her into court. The result was a prison sentence for Banks and a $1.5 million settlement for Gibson.
Banks had planned to play for USC at the college level, where he would have played side by side with future Green Bay Packers Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews. Instead, Banks turned his attention to proving his innocence. In 2012, his accuser admitted to lying about the whole incident. The video was subsequently used to exonerate Banks, after he’d already spent five full years in prison.
Upon his release, he made his intent known. He wanted to play in the NFL.
The odds are certainly against any player who’s been away from the game of football for 10 years, but the Atlanta Falcons signed Banks as a rookie free agent earlier in 2013. The 28-year-old has made steady progress in relearning the on-field language.
As the Falcons first preseason game waned into the fourth quarter on Thursday — all but a decided victory for the visiting Cincinnati Bengals — Banks entered the game at linebacker, and enjoyed a taste of what he’d always dreamed.
Said Banks of the experience, “I was amped up the entire time, all the way until they said the game was over. I’m still amped up, going around, shaking everyone’s hand.”
He understands his journey is still an uphill climb. “It’s a dream come true. I’m still fighting for a spot on the team, but I said I would make it to the NFL and play a game, and I did that today.”
It’ll be a haul to make the 53-man roster within the next three weeks, but nobody’s going to discount Brian Banks’ determination. It seems appropriate that he’s already wearing #53 as his jersey number. If he doesn’t make the team, there’s always a chance he’ll be asked to join the practice squad so the Falcons can further evaluate his development.
Damn the prison sentence. Here’s hoping Banks finds his way onto the final roster. He’s waited long enough.