As a high school student, Brian Banks had big dreams for the rest of this life. He was a star middle linebacker with the Long Beach Polytechnic High School football team in California and had attracted national attention. Schools like the University of Southern California, the University of Michigan, and The Ohio State University had all expressed interested in Banks. In fact, Banks had verbally agreed to a full scholarship at USC.
But then, in an instant, his college football dreams and hopes of eventually making it to the National Football League took a backseat to a more dire and pressing focus: The fight for his freedom.
Banks was falsely accused of kidnap and rape by a longtime friend, Wanetta Gibson, in 2002. Faced with the possibility of 41 years to a lifetime in prison, and being told by his counsel that Banks, a big, black teenager, would have to take his chances in this he-said, she-said case with no physical evidence or witnesses, Banks took the advice to plead no contest. He was sent to prison for five years when he was just 16 years of age.
When the five years were up, Banks faced the plight of so many when released from prison. He could not find a job because he was a convicted felon. On top of that, he was a registered sex offender. Appearing on NBC’s “Today” show on Friday, Banks said that label was like being branded. The words “rapist” and “sex offender” were his scarlet letters and no one would look past them.
The dreams Banks had as a 16-year old star athlete seemed even more distant as he tried to find a way to make a living as a 22-year old young man.
The California Innocence Project took on Banks’ case, focusing on inconsistencies in Gibson’s story.
Wanetta Gibson unbelievably contacted Banks a year ago via Facebook, saying she wanted bygones to be bygones. With the assistance of a private investigator, Banks obtained a recording of Gibson confessing that she had lied about the charges. In fact, she admitted that she had never even had sex with Banks. And he certainly didn’t kidnap her.
Per the Huffington Post,
In two meetings, she said she had lied and offered to help him clear his name, but there was a catch. She did not want to return a $1.5 million payment from a civil suit brought by her mother against the Long Beach schools.
Thankfully, the videotaped confession was accepted at the hearing that was a long time coming. The office of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Brentford Ferreira conceded that Banks’ case should be dismissed. Superior Court Judge Mark C. Kim agreed and the hearing was quickly over.
Banks was finally free with his name cleared He was in tears that finally, after ten years, his story was finally heard.
Wearing a t-shirt with an image of a license plate reading “XONR8” on his “Today” show appearance, Banks was poised and reflective about his experience. When asked if Gibson should go to jail for her made-up story, Banks stated that he believed all people are responsible for their actions but doesn’t seek revenge. He certainly has felt that way, but knows that such negative energy hurts no one but himself.
Banks would still love to have an opportunity to play in the NFL, asking teams to, “give me an opportunity and let me show you what i can produce. I think any team that gives me an opportunity will be really impressed with what I can do despite everything I’ve been through…”
The chances of Banks receiving more than a tryout with a team, if even that, are slim, as he has missed out on the increased knowledge and skill that comes with a college career. But regardless of happens with football, Banks has now achieved his greatest dream of the past decade.
After the hearing that finally cleared his name, Banks stated, “My only dream in the world was to just be free and to have the same opportunity as everyone here.”
Banks’ segment on “Today” can be viewed here.