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By John McMullen, NFL Editor - Archive - Email
Falcons' Banks searches for his second chance
Brian Banks Brian Banks is set to participate in all of Atlanta's offseason workouts.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After being wrongfully convicted of kidnapping and rape, Brian Banks has every reason to be bitter. But the Atlanta Falcons' new linebacker is all about the high road these days, content in the knowledge he will be able to chase his NFL dream this summer in Dixie.

Banks, who was signed by the Falcons on Wednesday, probably would have earned his NFL pension by now, but the former star Southern California recruit was sidetracked long before he ever stepped foot on campus.

Banks' odyssey began in 2002 when he was just 17. He had already secured a scholarship offer from then-Trojans coach Pete Carroll when a Long Beach Poly High School classmate accused him of rape.

Banks admitted to a romantic encounter with Wanetta Gibson but denied any sexual intercourse. By the end of the day, however, he was sitting in jail, charged with two counts of forcible rape and the kidnapping.

Banks was kicked off the football team, expelled from school and his USC scholarship was history.

There was no DNA evidence linking Banks to any crime, but as his court date rapidly approached, Banks claims his lawyer feared he wouldn't be able to get a fair trial due to his size and race. So she, an African-American herself, convinced the young and immature teenager to plead no contest, something that took a possible 41-year jail sentence off the table.

In play, however, was a penalty of anywhere from 18 months to five years, and Banks was hit with the maximum. Gibson, meanwhile, used the legal system to sue the school district for a lack of security and eventually won a $1.5 million settlement.

It was 2007, after Banks spent five years in Chino State Prison, that he was finally released at the age of 22. He was hardly free, though, forced to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and register as a sex offender.

Things finally began to turn for Banks in 2012 when he was surfing on his computer. Gibson, the same woman who accused him of a heinous crime, reached out on Facebook, sending Banks a friend request.

Stunned, Banks got in touch with the help of a private investigator and eventually asked Gibson to help him get exonerated.

"I mean, I will go through with helping you, but at the same time -- all that money they gave us -- I mean, gave me -- I'm not going to give back," Gibson said while being filmed.

Eventually Gibson admitted on tape that Banks never raped or kidnapped her, and with the help of the California Innocence Project, Banks took the taped confession to the district attorney's office.

"Gibson said that they were just playing around, being curious about sexuality, and that the adults got involved and blew it all out of proportion," according to legal documents. "She said the adults 'put stuff in (her) head.'"

"We never really got the answer to that," Banks said when asked why Gibson accused him. "What it really came down to is she didn't want her parents to know she was sexually active."

On May 24, 2012, after five years in jail and five years on probation, Banks' nightmare was finally over.

"I'm just thankful to be free now and have the opportunity like anybody else to thrive in life," Banks told ABC News Radio after being exonerated. "I'm completely overwhelmed with so many emotions and feelings all at once."

His dream was just beginning and Carroll, now the coach of the Seattle Seahawks, was the first to reach out.

"A few days after I was exonerated, I got a phone call from a 213 number," Banks said while being interviewed by CBS' "60 Minutes." "I'm, like, 'Hello.' And the voice on the other end goes, 'Yeah, I'm looking for a linebacker. You know where I can find one? 'It's Coach Carroll.'"

The Seahawks as well as the San Francisco 49ers, San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs all took a look at Banks last summer, but he was still getting back into football shape after ballooning up to 275 pounds. He caught on with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League, but that was short-lived when money woes shut down the league.

Back to his playing weight of 250 pounds, the now 27-year-old Banks, who is now a spokesman for the California Innocence Project, is set to participate in all of Atlanta's offseason workouts and be given a legitimate chance to resume a career that never should have been derailed in the first place.

"We are pleased to have Brian join our team," said Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff when announcing the signing. "We had a chance to work him out last year and have been monitoring his progress since then.

"He has worked extremely hard for this chance over the last year and he has shown us that he is prepared for this opportunity. 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."

Projecting Banks in a Falcons jersey come September is still a longshot, but don't bet against him. After all, he's overcome far more.

"I really do like my chances and it's still alive and well," Banks said. "The dream is still in pursuit."

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