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Every so often, sports can provide a legitimate feel-good story.
Brian Banks is that story.
Banks was a standout high school football player at Long Beach Polytechnic High, the same school that produced Padres Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. He was a 16-year-old junior with an offer to attend USC on a football scholarship and dreams of playing in the NFL.
Then a 15-year-old classmate falsely accused him of rape. Facing a possible life sentence, Banks pleaded no contest to a lesser charge and went to prison for five years. His USC scholarship and NFL dreams vanished.
Banks served his sentence and was out on probation when his story took an amazing turn. Banks’ accuser found him on Facebook, and despite having sent him to prison for allegedly raping her, she sent him a friend request. They began communicating, and his accuser admitted that she had made the whole thing up.
Banks asked his accuser to recant on the record so he could clear his name. Worried that she would have to forfeit a $1.5 million settlement she had won in a civil suit against the Long Beach school district, she refused. However, Banks convinced his accuser to meet with him, and with the help of a private investigator, he recorded her saying that Brian had not raped her.
That’s where a downtown San Diego law school came in. The California Innocence Project, a clinical law program at California Western School of Law, is dedicated to releasing wrongfully convicted inmates. Armed with his accuser’s confession, they presented Banks’ case to the Los Angeles district attorney’s office. They concluded that he had been wrongly convicted, and in May 2012, the conviction was reversed in L.A. Superior Court.
Banks had lost 10 years of his life to a false conviction, but had kept his NFL dreams simmering in the back of his mind. Shortly after his conviction was overturned he received tryouts with NFL teams including the Chargers and Seattle Seahawks, where former USC head coach Pete Carroll remembered Banks as the star linebacker he had recruited to play for the Trojans. His athleticism had understandably atrophied after 10 years away from the game and he left his tryouts without a contract. He later signed with the minor league Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League, where he recorded one tackle in two games while working back into shape.
On Wednesday, his perseverance paid off when he signed a contract with the Atlanta Falcons. He will essentially be on a training camp invite, but he’s on the roster with a shot to finally make the NFL. That shot at his dream put a big, beautiful smile on the man.
Cal Western’s Innocence Project is justifiably proud for playing a part in righting a horrible injustice. San Diego can be proud of a law school that proved lawyers sometimes do really good things.