Even though Brian Banks lived it, it still can be hard to watch his incredible story play out on film.
In the Virginia Mason Athletic Center auditorium earlier this summer, Banks sat in towards the back of the room as Seahawks rookies watched an advanced screening of the movie "Brian Banks," which opens in theaters this Friday. Even though Banks went through all of this in real life, and even though he has seen the movie multiple times, he still had to look away a few times.
"Watching the film, it's still fresh," Banks said. "When I see it, I'm reliving it in my head, when I'm seeing scenes with my mom, or courtroom scenes. People are watching a movie, but I lived it, I've actually been through it. It can be a little emotional at times, sometimes I look away and don't look at certain scenes.
"But it's necessary, I really feel like this film is necessary. Sharing my story, my life and my experience, as well as my family's experience, it's necessary. We've got to get that information out."
Banks' incredible story includes a brief stint with the Seahawks, which is why he came to Seattle to screen the movie, but his story is much bigger than football. As a high school linebacker who was receiving recruiting attention from big-time college programs, including Pete Carroll's USC Trojans, Banks was falsely accused of rape in 2002. Banks spent more than five years in prison and five more on probation before, with the help of the California Innocence Project, he was exonerated in 2012.
Despite such a long layoff from football, Banks still wanted to pursue a dream that was taken from him, and almost as soon as his name was cleared in 2012, Carroll reached out and invited Banks to try out with the Seahawks. Banks had a private workout with then linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr., then was invited back for Seattle's June minicamp. The Seahawks didn't end up signing Banks, but seven years later he still remains grateful for the opportunity, which helped open other doors in football. The following year Banks signed a contract with the Atlanta Falcons, took part in training camp and played in the preseason.
"Pete got the ball rolling as far as my short stint in the NFL," Banks said. "I don't think it would have happened if it wasn't for him. He remembered we had this recruiting dance back in high school. I just thought it was so cool—right after I was exonerated, I think it was the following day, my phone rang. It was a 310 number I remember it like it was yesterday, and this guy says, 'Hey, I'm looking for a linebacker, you know where I can find one?' I was like, 'Yeah, you've got the right number, who is this?' He was like, 'It's Coach Carroll.' I just thought it was amazing that we went from this whole recruiting dance back in high school when he was at USC to now, me being an exoneree who has spent 10 years of his life in confinement, and he had moved onto being back in the NFL, and he heard my story and took interest in it and remembered who I was, and he wanted to give me a shot. At that time, it was one of the greatest achievements for me beyond getting my life back and getting my name cleared—finally recapturing a dream that was taken away, which was to just have an opportunity to play at the highest level. That opportunity came from him, it was awesome.
"Having that opportunity to try out, then being invited back to camp, it was a very amazing experience, a very new experience, a very fast-paced experience. It was more than I was prepared for at the time. I'd be the first person to admit that. You take 10 years off of not playing the game, being confined to a box and having to spend most of your time in that box, laying on a metal slab they call a bed, not being able to train and workout. But just to have that opportunity to come back and try out and give it my all, to know that the opportunity came from Pete Carroll, somebody who saw potential for me as a high school player, and then allowed me to see if it was still there coming back after all of this, one of the greatest experiences ever was coming here and trying out for the Seahawks."
K.J. Wright, who at the time was preparing for his second season with the Seahawks, still remembers Banks' week with the Seahawks and his infectious attitude that was evident to everyone he encountered.
"I remember him coming in, and he was just out there doing what he loved to do," Wright said. "The game got taken away from him for a long time, and I just remember how happy he was being out on the football field, being with teammates and creating that bond. He enjoyed it while he was here, and we enjoyed having him as part of the team."
What stood out most about Banks then and now, and what is portrayed well by Aldis Hodge, who plays Banks in the movie, is how Banks was able to maintain such a positive outlook on life despite having so much of his life unjustly taken away from him.
"Brian's story is an incredible story, but more than that, Brian's an incredible guy," Carroll said. "He is really something. Given the obstacles that he was up against, and the way he has come out of it, it's incredible. It's just a total credit to him—his character, his personality, his belief in himself, which needed to be there for him to have a chance to make it through it was right there when he needed it, and he has come through it in a fantastic way."
Added Norton, now Seattle's defensive coordinator, "After all he had been through, he still had a great spirit about him. He wasn't bitter, he was happy, he had this glow in his eyes, a really big smile, and just really friendly. He really embraced the chance to be a part of a team, the chance to pursue a dream he has always had."
Of course, it wasn't easy for Banks to see things in such a positive light when he first went to prison. But with the help of a mentor in prison named Jerome Johnson—played in the movie by none other than Morgan Freeman—he slowly began to change his outlook.
"Every single negative emotion you can think of, I had," Banks told Seattle's rookies during a Q&A session after the movie. "It was a part of me. And I realized I had no way to release this negative energy, it was stuck within me… I couldn't allow this one moment in time to dictate the direction of my life. From the darkest place, I had to reinvent myself and create my own light."
Banks' story is a lot bigger than football, but football is what brought him to Seattle in 2012 for a few days that made a lasting impression both on him and the Seahawks.
"It was great to give him that opportunity, and I'm glad it helped lead to so many other positives in his life,' Carroll said. "He's going to be a great factor for so many, and his story is incredible, and I'm really thrilled he had a chance to talk to our guys."