Column: Banks spreading hope even facing long odds

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Banks knew he did nothing wrong, but he agreed to a plea because he faced more than 40 years in prison.

Just imagine being in his shoes.

“You don’t think you’re going to win the case,” Brooks says. “It’s an all-white jury. It’s your word against hers and you’re a big, black teenager. You’re told if you take the deal, you might get probation. Maybe, at worst, you get a couple of years, get out of prison and get your life back. I don’t know what I would do, and I’m a lawyer. I can’t imagine being a 17-year-old kid having to make that decision.”

If not for the accuser finally acknowledging there was no crime, Banks would still be going through life with the stigma of being an ex-con. Certainly, no NFL team would’ve given him a chance to fulfill his dream.

“I feel very bad that he had to go through that,” says Falcons defensive end Osi Umenyiora. “But I’m happy he’s getting his opportunity now. Better late than never.”

Physically, Banks fits right in with his Falcons teammates, his 6-foot-2, 250-pound frame impressively ripped. But he’s missed out on so much as a player, so much that goes on in the head that he doesn’t even realize. Others know instinctively where they should be. Banks often has to think about it for a split-second. That’s all it takes to get out of position, to get beat.

The Falcons must cut down to 53 players before their season opener at New Orleans on Sept. 8. Banks is unlikely to be on the list, though he could get an opportunity to do more catching-up on Atlanta’s practice squad. The Canadian Football League is another possibility, perhaps offering the prospect of playing right away.

No matter where he lands, Banks intends to keep making a difference. Just in the past year, he’s worked with the California Innocence Project to clear the names of two people falsely accused.

He knows there’s more where they came from.

“If this experience inspires others to chase their dreams, or get back on track of a dream they once let go, I feel like I’ve accomplished more than … trying to make this team,” Banks says. “There’s just so much I want to do in life. Part of that is to use my story and use my experiences to give back to other people.”

In that respect, he’s already an All-Pro.

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Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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California Innocence Project website: http://californiainnocenceproject.org; Brian Banks website: http://brianbanks.org

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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