“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
That is one of the resounding themes of the recently released movie, “Brian Banks.”
The film tells the inspirational and gut-wrenching story of Banks’ painstaking efforts to clear his name from being falsely accused of sexual assault as an elite high school football player in 2002. Those of you who closely follow college football will recall that then-USC coach Pete Carroll heavily recruited Banks out of Polytechnic High School in Long Beach, California, and offered him a scholarship as a promising linebacker with NFL potential.
Banks was set to pursue his dream of playing for the Trojans when one fateful, immature decision drastically altered the course of his life. It was a decision of youthful indiscretion, making out with a girl he liked under a stairwell during school hours. Lots of boys have done this, but Banks was not just any boy. Local sports reporters were constantly calling him for interviews, and with Carroll recruiting him, Banks’ star was rising on Rivals.com. From the film’s depiction, it appears that Banks suddenly realized that he could be jeopardizing the great future he had ahead of him when he abruptly ended the encounter with his female classmate, whose name was fictionalized as Kennisha Rice. She maliciously accused him of rape. Banks was pressured by his lawyer into taking a plea bargain and ended up serving six years in prison and three on parole. He endured the shame of registering as a sex offender.
It all was devastating punishment for a crime that he did not commit.
Watching Banks’ story provides a deep outlook on just how unfair life can be. Imagine the anguish and heartbreak of losing everything you’ve diligently worked for at the tender age of 17. Yes, 17 is very young, but when you’re an athlete youth is the prime window of opportunity. There are a little over one million high school football players across the country. The majority of them will not receive a scholarship from a major division 1 program as Banks did from USC, so to never play a down of college football was a crushing blow for him. However, Banks learned a critical truth in facing adversity that many people realize when they are much older: Perspective is the key to how one fares in life.
This is the wise and rigorous counsel that Banks received from his prison mentor, who gave him a copy of “As a Man Thinketh, ” the self-help book published in 1903 by British writer James Allen. The book’s title is related to the well-known scripture in Proverbs 23:7, and it was the perfect defensive response to what seemed like a hopeless situation for Banks behind bars.
By renewing his mind, which he also did through prayer to God, Banks was able to overcome the agonizing wounds in his heart. He had to, as his mentor drilled into him, leave prison mentally. If he did not free the confines of his mind, he would risk returning to prison physically.
This is a sacred lesson for anyone who is shackled by a bitter tragedy from their past. It could be a wrongful conviction like Banks, a loss of a parent or close friend to terminal illness, or a lingering career disappointment or financial setback. We cannot avoid trials or always control the hardships we endure, but we can control how we respond.
By changing his mindset, Banks built up his tenacity to fight for exoneration of his record with help from the California Innocence Project while on parole, earnestly persuading CIP director Justin Brooks to take his case. After Banks’ conviction was overturned in 2012, he finally made it to the NFL almost a year later at age 28, playing for the Atlanta Falcons during the preseason. Football did not work out, but Banks is now on a greater path of destiny as a motivational speaker. I bet he often uses this old football adage as he teaches others how to overcome life’s difficulties: Don’t spend too much time worrying about the last play or you won’t be ready for the next one.
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at The Ohio State University-Lima. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. @JjSmojc