Thiel: Banks a star, but not necessarily a player

Thiel: Banks a star, but not necessarily a player

Credit: Seattle Seahawks

Brian Banks during a tryout at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, Wash., June 7, 2012.


by Art Thiel


Posted on June 14, 2012 at 8:29 AM

Updated Thursday, Jun 14 at 1:30 PM

What Brian Banks wants to be is an LB (linebacker). For sure, he's an MP (media phenomenon). His chance to close the gap isn't DOA, but he could be SOL.

The best part: An abbreviated stay doesn't really matter.

"If it’s for one day, if it’s for a whole season, if it’s for however long, just enjoy the moment," Banks said of his first day Wednesday in a Seahawks uniform. "I’ve already won; I have my freedom. That’s what’s most important to me. Making this team would just be additional blessings to this freedom."

Banks is that guy for whom his first name has become "Exonerated." That's how the sports world, and worlds beyond sports, have come to know him. Those worlds desperately want him to have a Hollywood ending.

But the 26-year-old, who spent five years in jail and five years on probation for a crime he didn't commit, is a long way from Hollywood, and little closer to football stardom.

His position coach for the first formal day of his football life, Ken Norton Jr., was as honest as dirt.

"This is the NFL -- best of the best, so it's going to be really tough for him," he said after practice. "He gave it a shot, didn't shy away, you got to give him a plus for that.

"Again, this is the best of the best, the highest level of athletics. He's been out of it for 10 years so it's going to be really, really tough."

The odds are stacked higher than LeBron James' excuses. Still, it's hard to tell anything from a single workout, particularly in this three-day camp in which pads and contact are prohibited by the newly cautious NFL. But hey -- he looked like a football player.

And he talked like the athlete all parents wants their kids to be.

"I got to my locker, and just wanted to take a picture of (my jersey) just for myself," he said. "It's just amazing to see my name on the back of it."

"It's an honor to be taken serious and be given this opportunity."

Banks, whose misery ended May 24 after a California judge accepted the recanting of a woman's rape accusation that jailed him, admitted he was up to 275 pounds in October before he engaged in a serious training regimen that dropped him to 239 pounds in anticipation of his freedom.

He's worked out with couple of teams, and after the final day of Seahawks camp Thursday, may take a workout offer from the Minnesota Vikings. But aside from one season in 2007 at Long Beach City College, that's all the football he has had.

It's possible that because of his story alone, Banks will make it on the Seahawks' 90-man roster that will be invited to start training camp in late July. He will make it to the cut-down to 53 in September only if he can beat out a half-dozen linebackers much more experienced than him, although the six-man practice squad is an option.

Norton is providing no slack.

"I won't adjust," he said. "I have 13 kids in my group. They've been here every single day, and he has to be evaluated just like they are.

"But Brian has been watching football, been working out, and he's really bright. He knows the stuff, remembers everything. The athletic ability and the smarts are there, so absolutely there's an opportunity."

It also has to be worth something that Banks has so far managed to stay poised in the media spotlight.

"I'm not overwhelmed," he said. "I think it's just about being honest, first with yourself and the people around you. I get in front of a camera or in front of somebody to speak, I'm just honest. Just be myself.

"I haven't really allowed myself to take too much time in thinking about the change. I've just been day-to-day with the new freedom and being out here with the Seahawks."

Banks has been inundated with interview requests, and is already working on a documentary about his travail with the judicial system. But he's so clear-headed he can actually appreciate a chewing-out by Norton, who is legendary among players for his command of impolite, loud, rude English.

"You know what? I like that intensity," Banks said. "I like that style. If it's not right, tell me it's not right. And if it needs fixing tell me it needs fixing and let's fix it together."

This guy may be the most coachable in sports. It would be a shame if the reason were strictly a five-year prison sentence. But the injustice has created a joy for this ordinary week in the pro football calendar that was extraordinary.

"The advice that I appreciate the most," he said, "is just enjoy the moment."

Stringing moments together into a season would be one of the great individual feats in recent sports history. Which, of course, is why Pete Carroll finds the story irresistible. The former USC coach spent a lot of time around Hollywood.

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