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What a difference a year makes. In 2012, Brian Banks was fighting for his freedom. In 2013, he’s getting a second shot at his dream of playing in the NFL. It’s the ultimate Cinderfella story, and football fan or not, you can’t help but be happy for the guy.
When he was 16, he was a junior in high school with a verbal deal to play for Southern Cal, his college plans all but solidified, when one of his classmates claimed that he raped her. That sent him to prison for five years. Five long, unjustifiable years. Because Banks was innocent.
His accuser recanted her claim and offered to help Banks clear his name. In May 2012, his conviction was overturned by a California court and his record was cleared. Justice righted that tremendous wrong, and that would’ve been reason enough to celebrate. (More on that levying-life-changing-false-accusations nonsense later.)
Yesterday Banks, now 27, signed with the Atlanta Falcons, living out a dream he’d let go a long time ago as part of his way to survive that ordeal. "In order for me to exit prison with a sane mind and be able to just function as a person I had to let go of certain dreams and goals I once held in life, football being one of them," he said. "I can't believe this is happening. It's surreal."
The 6-foot-2, 250-pound inspiration will get an opportunity to win a spot on the team as inside linebacker. The Falcons are the first NFL team to sign him, but he’s worked out with a few other teams, among them the Seahawks and the Chargers. He wasn’t handed this chance to be on the team—he worked hard for it. He’ll start offseason workouts with the team on April 22.
"It's almost impossible to explain, the feeling of not having freedom, to be stripped away of your freedom, of your dignity, the respect you once had," he said. "To lose it all and watch the world pass you by as you sit inside a prison cell, knowing you shouldn't be there, knowing you're there because of another person's lies, to lose it all and then get it all back, it's a very humbling, spiritual feeling that you just don't want to take anything for granted.”
So I now have a new favorite player to root for and cheer on, however his season turns out. But this is also a super unfortunate example of how women who blow the whistle on fake rape not only make it that much more difficult to get attention and resources directed to real cases, but rob innocent men of their rights, too. That he can be this gracious about it is impressive. All I can say is… ugh.
Does a heartwarming personal story make you more likely to cheer for a team or a player?
Image via Georgia National Guard/Flickr