Sunday 15 February 2015

Exonerated Of Rape, Brian Banks Now Realizing His Dream – Very Touching (Part1)

It's been nearly half a lifetime since Pete Carroll walked up to Brian Banks at Long Beach Poly High and said, "Hey, you can do something. You can be something."

Banks was 15 years old at the time, and to him, that message seemed clear: he had a future playing football.

But two years later, Banks became ensnared in an ordeal of injustice, anger and heartbreak that lasted a decade. On his way to possibly playing for Carroll at USC, Banks was wrongly accused of raping a girl at his high school. Rather than facing 41 years to life in prison if he fought the charges and lost, he pleaded guilty and was sent to prison for five years.

"I screamed and yelled and begged for people to help," Banks said Sunday by phone. "And even then no one listened."

Banks, now 29, was cleared and freed in May 2012 after serving five years of probation (in addition to the five years in prison) when his accuser recanted her story. He got a tryout from Carroll and the Seahawks, and then another from the Falcons. But it was too late for his original dream to come true.

It was not, however, too late for Carroll to be right in his prediction. This year, Banks has found a place where important people are listening: he is working for the NFL in New York City. And even though he just started his first real job, the league might need him even more than he ever needed the league.

The question Banks gets first and most often from everyone who wants to hear about his story is: "Have you forgiven her?" Isn't he still upset at Wanetta Gibson, who falsely accused him of raping her in a stairwell, then stood by as Banks was sent to prison, only to admit she fabricated the story after winning a $1.5 million lawsuit from the Long Beach school district?

"I often think about what I've been through," Banks said. "I've removed my emotion from what this girl did to me. It already happened. It's, 'What am I doing now? How am I dealing with it?'"

A lot of how he's dealing with it comes from the months he spent in juvenile hall, awaiting his legal fate in California. It was there that Banks met a man named Jerome Johnson, who became a mentor to him.

"He opened my eyes," Banks said. "He challenged my mind in a way that had never been challenged before. I had a good upbringing. But these were things that were foreign to me. All it took was that person to introduce me to thinking who 'the real you' is."

Banks had never really thought about his identity. He was a football player, and that was enough – just like it is for most star high school athletes. Then football was taken away, and he was sent to a place where he had no real control over his future or even his safety.

"Unless you're a killer yourself, it's frightening," he said. "It's not a place where everything is gonna be all right."

So the challenge became about separating himself from his plight, and finding power over it.

"One day I woke up and it dawned on me I had no control over what's going on in my life," Banks said. "I have control over how it affects me. I started to better myself as a person rather than let my situation be the end-all. I practiced it and I practiced it and it became a little easier."

At first, that was a process for survival. It would soon become a foundation for a career.
When he got out of prison, he craved juice. Orange juice. Apple juice. Any kind of fruit juice. Banks drank as much of it as he could find, using that and all the time lost as fuel to try to make his lost football dream come true. Carroll gave him a shot in Seattle. He went to some other camps when that didn't work out. Somewhere along the way, he got a call from New York. It was Roger Goodell.

"I am calling to wish you the best," the commissioner told him. "I really want you to make it."

They stayed in touch. And a short time before the 2014 NFL draft, Goodell texted him to ask a favor. He wanted Banks to speak at the rookie symposium.

Banks, who was already in demand as a motivational speaker, accepted. Over the phone on Sunday, he reprised what he said to the rookies over the summer – a group he imagined himself being a part of for so long:

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