Brian Banks, who was exonerated of rape charges just one year ago, was signed by the NFC South champions Atlanta Falcons on Wednesday to a free-agent contract.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” Banks said. “It’s surreal.”
As a 16-year-old junior at Long Beach Polytechnic High School Banks had verbally committed to sign with Southern California, but his dream came to a halt after Wanetta Gibson – a female classmate – accused him of rape. Banks was advised by his attorney at the time to plead no contest to the charges, despite proclaiming his innocence. He was sentenced to five years in prison and five years on probation following his conviction.
“I felt at the time in order for me to exit prison with the 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,” Banks said.
However, upon his release Gibson contacted him through Facebook and expressed her desire to meet with him. Banks was shocked at her request, but decided to meet with her despite his concerns. After meeting with her and seeking the help of a private investigator who taped her confession, Gibson recanted her claim and offered to help him clear his name.
May 12, 2012, was best day in Banks’ life, when the conviction was overturned by a California court and his record was cleared. Banks broke down in tears as he left the courthouse.
“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,” he said.
The 27-year-old Banks will now have the opportunity to make the 53-man roster of the Falcons after meeting with Falcons coach Mike Smith at the team’s facility Wednesday. Banks said the conversation with Smith was great, and they agreed there would be no “handouts” or “any favoritism” given.
“All I can do is my best and however the turnout will be, I thank God for the opportunity,” Banks said.
The Falcons are the first NFL team to sign Banks, but other teams in the league have given him opportunities. He took participated in the Seattle Seahawks’ minicamp last June, following workouts with Kansas City and San Diego. Ultimately, he did not make any roster and played in the United Football League with the Las Vegas Locomotives. He had one tackle in two games.
The Falcons were also one of the teams that Banks worked out for before the 2012 season.
“He has worked extremely hard for this chance over the last year and he has shown us that he is prepared for the opportunity,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “We are happy that Brian will have a chance to live out his dream of playing in the NFL and we look forward to seeing him on the field.”
Banks, who was recruited as a linebacker out of high school, will participate in Atlanta’s offseason workouts, which begin on April 22.