Brian Banks is making a triumphant return to football after being cleared of bogus rape charges after a five long years of wrongful imprisonment. The 27-year-old has signed with the Atlanta Falcons, according to the team's website. Here's what you should know about this inspirational comeback kid.
1. At Age 17, He Was Wrongly Accused of Rape
Brian Banks was a phenomenal young athlete; a nationally ranked linebacker with a scholarship to attend USC and a solid chance for a future NFL career. But in the summer of 2002, he was accused of sexually assaulting a classmate — Wanetta Gibson — at Polytechnic High School. He faced a possible 41-year prison sentence but eventually agreed to a plea deal that included prison time, probation, and being branded as a registered sex offender. Wanetta and her mother sued the school for being an unsafe environment and won a $1.5 million settlement.
2. He Spent Five Years in Prison
Brian suffered for five long years in jail, knowing that dream of an NFL career was over. He told CNN that, "Football was the last thing on my mind, and it wasn't until a few months before I was actually being released from prison that I thought about possibly trying to play football again." He was 22 when he was released from jail in 2007, and he began his probation. However, Banks re-entered the world with the restrictions and stigma of a sex offender.
3. His Accuser Emerged, Admitting She Lied
In 2011, Wanetta Gibson reached out to Brian on Facebook, admitting that she had fabricated the rape story. She even went to see Brian and admitted it to him in person. She didn't realize that Brian and a private investigator taped her confession. The California Innocence Project presented the evidence to the L.A. District Attorney's office, prompting an investigation that backed Brian's claims of innocence.
4. He Caught Her on Tape and Cleared His Name
In light of this new evidence, Brian was exonerated on May 24, 2012. An emotional Banks was finally free of all charges against him after the district attorney said that Banks was wrongfully convicted. He broke down in tears in the courtroom.
5. He Played Some UFL Games
In September 2012, Brian got an offer to play for the Las Vegas Locomotives in the UFL circuit. He appeared in two games until the UFL suspended its season in October.
6. He Had Tryouts for Several NFL Teams
Before signing with the Falcons, Brian was touring and visiting other teams that were willing to give him a shot. Multiple teams, including the San Diego Chargers and the Seattle Seahawks, considered taking him on. Brian was at a mini camp with the Seahawks, whose head coach, Pete Carroll, offered Brian a shot after giving him a scholarship at USC so many years ago, according to Pro Football Talk.
7. This Week, Brian Signed with the Falcons
Brian Banks signed with the Atlanta Falcons on Wednesday, telling reporters that he had worked extremely hard to return to football since his prison sentence. He expressed his gratitude to the team on Twitter saying, "Coach Smith, GM Dimitroff, Mr.Blank, and the
#ATL players & personel.. #ThankYou for accepting me into the family."
8. But He Still Has to Make the Team
Brian Banks still has a long way to go if he wants to be on the Atlanta Falcons' official roster. Banks needs to work hard and train during the off-season to prepare for a vigorous training camp this summer, where he could be cut. "I can't believe this is happening," Banks told reporters shortly after signing. "This is the biggest accomplishment of my life, but it is also just the beginning."
9. His Lack of Experience Will Hurt His Chances
Not only has football has changed a lot in 10 years, but Banks missed out on learning some key, advanced, football concepts and techniques in college. These factors will make it difficult to prepare Banks for game play, but not impossible. "Teaching Banks to think like an NFL player will be among the biggest challenges ahead", a scout said. That said, Banks knows something about overcoming adversity.
10. You Can Expect a Movie and Book About His Story
Brian hopes to save other innocent people who are trapped in prison. He joined the California Innocence Project, according to ESPN. In addition, he's working with producer James Moll to make a documentary based on his story. Publishers even expressed interest in writing a book on his traumatic experience.