Thursday night is the first night with a full slate of NFL preseason games. Most people tune in because they have been itching to watch some football, and halfway through the first quarter the field is full of guys they have never heard of and stop paying attention. Tonight, do yourself a favor and stay tuned.
I will start off by saying I can’t stand giving ESPN credit, let’s face it, they haven’t been a credible source for news since about 1997. The “Butt Fumble” has made an entire network giggle like a group of 12 year olds that just made a dick joke for eight months.
I digress, this time, ESPN got one right. ESPN’s first preseason game is a matchup between the Cincinatti Bengals and the Atlanta Falcons, but the player to watch isn’t A.J. Green, Julio Jones, or Matt Ryan, no, the player to watch is a 28 year old rookie free agent linebacker who never played a down of football in college.
The man I am referring to is Brian Banks. There have been countless, yet still not enough, stories documenting his journey, the most incredible is his first-hand account on the Rich Eisen Football Podcast.
Banks was a star high school linebacker at powerhouse Long Beach Poly and was committed to USC where he would be teammates of Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart and win National Championships. But that never happened. Instead a girl in his class, Wanetta Gibson, asked him to meet her in in a known make out spot on campus, where they made out and went about their day, but that was a day that would change Banks’ life forever.
Gibson accused Banks of raping her. Banks’ mother sold her home to pay for an attorney to help defend her son’s innocence, but that attorney had a motive of her own. Banks’ attorney was looking to move up in the legal system, and instead of building a strong case to prove Banks’ innocence, she negotiated a plea deal and explained to him that it was his best option.
At the age of 17, Banks took the word of his legal counsel and agreed to plea guilty to a crime he never committed and was sentenced to five years in prison and five years probation.
Then, in March 2011, after serving his full five year term behind bars and three years into his probation, where he walked around as a registered sex offender, Banks logged onto Facebook. There he had a message from Wanetta Gibson herself, and she wanted to meet. After dealing with plenty of emotions, Banks spoke to his best friend’s father, a private investigator, and agreed to meet Gibson, and recorded their meeting.
Gibson admitted to fabricating the story, but refused to testify as much because she did not want to lose the $1.5 million she had won from the Long Beach Unified School District. (She has since been ordered to pay back $2.5 million)
The taped admission was enough for Banks to get his name cleared thanks to the help of the California Innocence Project.
With his name finally cleared nearly ten years after he went to prison for a crime he never committed, Banks refocused his life to accomplishing the dream that once belonged to that innocent 17 year old kid, to play in the NFL.
Thursday night, on ESPN, after the starters have finished their token series or two and are standing on the sidelines with hats on, a linebacker wearing the number 53 for the Atlanta Falcons will take to the field. The man under that Falcons helmet, the man with the NFL jersey with a 53 on his back will be Brian Banks.
Time will tell if he is able to make the final roster, but dream seemingly gone on that day in July 2003, the day after his 18th birthday, when he walked into prison to serve his first day of a five year sentence, against all odds has become a reality. He will play in a real NFL stadium, for a real NFL team, and he will become a real NFL player.
So, do yourself a favor, don’t change the channel tonight, instead, keep an eye out for number 53, and cheer him on, because the man deserves this opportunity.