A cemetery seems like an odd place to find a life lesson, but that's exactly where Carl Banks absorbed one of his guiding principles. When he was in high school and college, Banks dug graves at Gracelawn Cemetery in his native Flint, Mich. to earn extra money. But the job did more than put cash in his pocket. It planted an idea in his head.
"When I was growing up in Flint I worked for a cemetery owner, Peter Buterakos," Banks said recently. "He told me to always try to give back, because the more you give, the more you get. It's not necessarily monetarily what you get back, but you get back so much more that helps you through life."
For the last 30 years, Banks has lived that ideal. At Michigan State, he worked with a variety of youth programs with the full support of his mentor, then head coach George Perles. The Giants selected Banks with the third overall pick of the 1984 NFL Draft. Instead of being intimidated by the big city, Banks embraced it and became active in the community. As a player, he worked closely with the Valerie Fund and the Tomorrows Children's Fund.
Although he left the Giants following the 1992 season and retired from the NFL three years later, Banks has never stopped giving to the metropolitan area. His Carl Banks Foundation raises money for a variety of causes, most notably autism research. It is a cause that is personal for Banks because his sister, Shannon, has twin six-year-old autistic boys.
"When you find something that is close to you, it certainly gives you more incentive," he said.
Banks works with Children of Incarcerated Parents, an organization that helps such children receive vital guidance and support. He will soon increase his involvement in the program with Mark Ingram, Jr., the New Orleans Saints rookie and former Heisman Trophy winner who is the son of an incarcerated parent, Banks' former Giants teammate Mark Ingram.
His concern for young athletes suffering head injuries motivated him to help establish a concussion and brain injury center with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) in 2004. Banks has stayed at the forefront in raising awareness about the importance of wearing properly fitted helmets and reducing the risks to youngsters.
For his ceaseless efforts to help people in so many arenas, Banks was selected as the Giants Alumni Man of the Year this past winter.
Banks' life has been a success story, both in and out of football. He was a consensus All-America linebacker at Michigan State. With the Giants, he was one of the premier run-stoppers of his era, a standout on the teams that won Super Bowls XXI and XXV, a Pro Bowler in 1987 and a member of the NFL 1980's All-Decade Team.
Banks is still closely affiliated with the Giants; since 2007, he has been an analyst on the Giants' radio broadcasts.
"The beauty of being an announcer for the Giants is it doesn't come with strings attached," Banks said. "There's no one that mandates that you can only say certain things. As long as you're being honest, that's basically what the fans appreciate. I think the management appreciates it, also. I've never been critical of any player on the field on the personal level. I can prepare for a game and see an opponent or see a player and know exactly what, with a great degree of certainty, should or should not be done. I don't make it a personal thing, but I can say a guy missed a block or a guy was out of position on a tackle and here's why. I can say that with a great deal of certainty."
Banks also is a regular contributor to Sirius NFL Radio.
Banks is a successful businessman and clothing designer. He is the President of G-III Sports, an apparel company he founded more than 20 years ago. Banks designs entire collections of sports apparel.
"Being in the sports apparel business is a lot of fun because you get a chance to dress the fans," Banks said. "When you look at the fans in any arena from college to pro and see my jackets and my apparel, it's very gratifying. Being able to go on to Home Shopping Network and be the number one men's seller and be able to go on and within an hour sell 25,000-30,000 sports jackets is really good."
Banks is the father of five high-achieving children. So how, exactly, does he manage to squeeze community service, football, business and family into a typical day or week?
"It's time management," Banks said. "You can't script a day at the office. I see with Coach (Tom) Coughlin or Jerry Reese, where they sit you're managing a ton of personalities and anything can happen. Sometimes you're a fireman and you have to put out fires. Sometimes you're a problem solver. Sometimes you've got to be the negotiator in some areas. It's a lot of fun. It's challenging. But, when you sit in the seat you have to be prepared for just about anything."