Wrongly convicted rapist edges closer to his NFL dream

Wrongly convicted rapist edges closer to his NFL dream

At some stage during his five-year prison sentence, Brian Banks gave up on his dream of playing professional football.

Imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit, Banks said letting go of his NFL career was the only way to keep a sane mind as he dealt with life as a convicted rapist.

Now, almost a year after he was exonerated of the kidnap and rape of a classmate, Banks can dream again after he was picked up by NFL Franchise the Atlanta Falcons.

"In order for me to exit prison with sane mind and be able to just function as the same person, I had to let go of certain dreams and goals," Banks told reporters this week.

"Football being one of them ... For me, I had to let that go.

"It's almost impossible to explain, the feeling of not having freedom, to be stripped away of your freedom, of your dignity, the respect you once had.

"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."

Banks describes his journey to this point as "crazy". Crazy barely does it justice.

Eleven years ago, Banks's high school classmate Wanetta Gibson alleged he took her into a stairwell and sexually assaulted her.

Despite pleading his innocence, Banks was found guilty and spent five years and two months in prison. But the pain didn't end upon his release. Banks spent the next five years as a registered sex offender, forced to wear an ankle bracelet and struggle with the severe travel restrictions imposed upon him.

Then in 2011, Gibson reached out to Banks and admitted she had made up the story in order to sue the school for $1.5 million.

Gibson agreed to help exonerate Banks and on May 12 last year, he was told his record would be cleared.

Free to finally pursue his NFL career, Banks hit some more roadblocks. He tried out for Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers, but failed to get a game.

And while the linebacker has no guarantee his fortunes at the Falcons will be any brighter, he is closer than ever to achieving the dream he once gave up on.

"I've had the opportunity to see both sides of the human spirit," Banks said.

"My journey has been crazy but my journey has been a learning experience that is unlike any other."