Bryan Thompson, an autistic child, then 14 years old, ran across the football field donning a banana costume during halftime.
At football games, some spectators don the jersey of their preferred team. Some people even go so far as to paint their chests with a letter and/or their faces. A performer used a completely different strategy. Eleven years ago, Bryan Thompson, an autistic child, then 14 years old, ran across the football field donning a banana costume during halftime. The antic got him handcuffed and placed in a cop car. Bryan shared that he "simply wanted to make people happy," but the school did not agree. The good-hearted boy ended up getting suspended at the direction of Principal Karen Spillman, reported NBC.
News4's Pat Collins was furious when he went to cover the story and decided to send his own message. He donned a costume of grapes to show solidarity with Bryan, and to help him from getting unnecessary punishment. Collins' fury was apparent as he spoke to Bryan Thompson, per Raw Story. "School officials accused him of being disruptive and disrespectful," Collins said. "Frankly, I don't see what all the fuss is about." He is seen asking the student on video, "Why a banana? Why not a ... grape?" To which Thompson replied, with candor, "Potassium is great."
The incident even inspired Thompson to write his own rap song, "Free Banana Man!" Somebody also created a Facebook page for "Banana Man," and someone even started a petition to have his suspension overturned. The petition read, "Sign this position to send a message to Colonial Forge Principal Karen Spillman and the Stafford County School Board: "Free Banana Man!" Brian’s record should be expunged and he should be allowed to return to school immediately! Let’s also send a message to Stafford County Sheriff Charlie Jett that he should be focused on catching the real criminals in Stafford County and not innocent bananas."
NEVER FORGET when the legend @patcollins4 wore a Grape costume during his interview with a student who was suspended for wearing a banana costume. #FreeBananaMan https://t.co/UqVlVBbdA0 pic.twitter.com/teVAJ9BM1N— Beatrice-Elizabeth Peterson (@MissBeaE) November 21, 2020
The suspension infuriated Thompson and his classmates, who started designing yellow t-shirts with the slogan, "Free Banana Man!" The school forbade the shirts, started seizing them and put pupils in detention for showing support for their classmates. "But when you think about it, you might see [the school's] point," Collins mocked the school's actions in the conclusion to the video. "It starts with a banana. Then, all of the sudden, you have an apple, an orange, and maybe a grape! And before you know it, you have fruit salad in the schools! We can't have that."
The American Civil Liberties Union intervened and informed the principal that her actions were unlawful. The furor over the controversy ended up blowing up, forcing the school's principal to resign. The final five days of Banana Man Bryan Thompson’s 10-day suspension were revoked and Thompson returned to his studies.
News4’s legendary Pat Collins talks about some favorite stories from his 50 years in journalism, the day he tracked down Mayor Marion Barry by helicopter and, of course, the grape suit @patcollins4 https://t.co/FSVUa19djw pic.twitter.com/HInhxF1FzO— NBC4 Washington (@nbcwashington) March 1, 2021
The incident became etched onto people's hearts, with the original video having over 707,000 views now. In fact, last year, Pat Collins met up with Thompson, who is now 24 years old and pursuing a career in music as Leon Knight, per NBC. "In 48 years I have been a reporter on TV, I have done thousands of stories, but there is one story that keeps hanging around," Collins said. The former Banana Man has gone through the ups and downs of the music industry. "Can't it please be tomorrow" is a new album that Thompson wrote, produced, and performed. The young adult is currently considering his future, as in the album's title. In Los Angeles, Thompson established his own recording studio after moving there.
When asked if Thompson regrets doing the Banana man, he said, "No regrets at all, man. That tells you the kind of kid I was, it definitely became a part of who I became as an adult."