Brian Banks signs with Falcons

In 2012, I saw Felix Hernandez throw a perfect game, saw Russell Wilson develop into a star, saw Golden Tate make the most controversial catch of the year, saw six pitchers combine for a no hitter, chased former U.S. soccer legend Kasey Keller down a steep mountain, saw Eddie Johnson revive his career with the Sounders, and saw Steve Zakuani return from a devastating injury in one of the year’s most goose-bump inducing moments.

None of that, however, was the highlight of covering sports last year. None of those moments, no matter how exciting, unlikely or emotional, were as moving as the couple of days Brian Banks spent with the Seahawks. That’s why anyone familiar with Banks’ story has to be thrilled to hear that he signed a contract with the Atlanta Falcons Wednesday.

Banks, who was wrongly convicted of rape in high school only to be exonerated 10 years later, came to Seattle for a workout last summer, and was invited back to participate in a minicamp.

Banks, who was recruited by Pete Carroll before his arrest, did not end up signing with Seattle or any other NFL team, but to hear him tell his story, and to see a man who has been through hell maintain an incredibly positive attitude was inspiring. He was accused of a rape he did not commit, he served five years in prison and five more on parole, yet Banks wasn’t mad at his accuser, he didn’t talk about the terrible injustice done to him. He instead focused on the life he had ahead.

“No,” Banks said in June when asked if he was angry or bitter. “I’ve been asked this question a few times since this whole ordeal, and not at all. Look where I am. Look where I am today. I thank God for this. This is a blessing. And the last thing I want to do is be bitter. I’ve had those days when I first received a six-year sentence, I had those days where I just wanted to lay in my cell and be angry and be bitter, but I realized all it did for me was keep me in a cell bitter and angry.

“Going to prison, being on parole, and even having this tryout today, it doesn’t define me. This doesn’t define me. There’s so much more to me. There will be so much more to me.”

That so much more will now include being able to say he was employed by an NFL team. Banks knows better than anyone that this contract won’t come with any guarantees. He’s still a long shot to make a 53-man roster, but regardless of what happens next, Wednesday’s news was a welcome bright spot on a day where much of the focus has been on a college basketball coach who was fired for, well, being an incredibly abusive jerk. As he did with his brief moment in the spotlight last summer, Banks will be able to not just chase his NFL dream, but also teach us all lessons about forgiveness, about making the most out of life, and about choosing hope over bitterness.

And speaking of Banks, if you missed it, here’s a 60 minutes feature on him that ran last month. It’s definitely worth watching.

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