October 29, 2010

Banks can see clearly now

Ed Willes
The Province

It might be easier if there was some lesson we could learn from Korey Banks and his family; some lasting truth which we could take from their sadness.

Maybe, then, we could understand this better. Maybe we could see a reason Khamari Banks died when he was three years old.

But there is no great lesson. There is only a choice. You either keep fighting, through the pain and the heartache, or you give in to the darkness.

The BC Lions defensive back made his choice, partly because he’s always been a fighter and partly because his son was a fighter.

Now? As always there are good days and bad days but the family is together and they live their lives.

There are many ways the Banks family honours Khamari, but that is the most profound.

“I don’t know,” says Banks. “I definitely play with him on my back all the time. But, in the heat of the battle, I don’t really think about it. I just try to be relentless. That’s the kind of kid he was. He was always full speed.”

Banks stops to compose himself. Then he continues, his voice strong.

“The biggest thing is it humbles you. You stop worrying about the things you have and the things you don’t have because it can all be gone. Whatever you cherish can be gone in the blink of an eye. There’s so many ways to lose things and there aren’t enough ways to keep things. So you just have to enjoy every minute of what you’re doing.”

And you remember; you remember because you’re reminded of him every day.

Banks, the 31-year-old veteran, is finishing off his best season as a Lion and if that’s all you knew about him, this would still be a story.

Listed as a 182-pound linebacker on the Leos’ depth chart, he’s been, well, relentlessly filling up the CFL stats’ sheet the way LeBron fills up the NBA’s. He has 48 tackles, six sacks, three forced fumbles, three recovered fumbles and two interceptions.

Add it all up and Banks has been the Lions’ best player this season and should merit consideration for the CFL’s defensive player of the year.

“He’s got a great spirit for the game,” says Lions defensive co-ordinator Mike Benevides. “Considering everything he’s been through, I find him to be exemplary this year in terms of his leadership. There’s no question he’s been our best guy on defence.”

In January, Banks and his wife Tartesia also suffered the worst loss a parent can endure when Khamari fell to cancer. A tumour had been found in the boy’s nasal cavity during the 2009 season and, after a round of chemo, there was optimism about his recovery.

But, by the end of the season the cancer had returned.

“I didn’t think that much of it in the beginning,” says Dante Marsh, Banks‘ closest friend on the team.

“Then Korey finally told me what it was. It was hard to see him go through that. Towards the end of the season he’d break down.

“But he held it together. He was strong for his family. I think there’s a maturity there now.”

So, can you tie the two strings together? Did the loss of his son fix Banks‘ priorities and sharpen his focus?

Maybe. But Banks has been a good player throughout his seven CFL seasons. The real difference, he’ll tell you, has been away from the game where, for the first time, the family has been together in Vancouver during the season.

This year, Banks has taken in the football games of his 13-year-old Korey Jr. There are seven-year-old Kamden’s soccer games. And he’s watched his one-year-old daughter Kennedy take her first steps and speak her first words.

“Daughters will change your life,” he says, exhaling.

“I had three boys. Then it was hold on. This is different.”

But they are all together now. Tartesia is now pursuing a master’s degree. Korey has real-estate holdings in the Atlanta area with Marsh and has invested in trucking.

There’s also the matter of his day job with the Lions but, like all things, that’s been assigned a different place in his life.

“It’s been great,” Banks says. “After a hard day of work, you can go home and see what it’s really about.”

And, because of everything you’ve been through, you can see it clearly.