When Jack Englund showed up to his Orange County, Florida high school yesterday dressed as Trojan Man, a superhero mascot for Trojan Condoms, he didn't expect to cause an international viral media storm. But when a teacher sent him to the principal's office for breaking the dress code, Englund -- a 17-year-old senior who wants better sex education in the curriculum because his friends are getting pregnant and contracting STDs -- went straight to the press. Now his story is making headlines all over the world, and he told us why he felt the risk was worth it.
MTV News: How'd you get the idea to wear a giant condom costume to school?
Jack Englund: Well, it was Spirit Week for our homecoming. For seniors, it was Character Day yesterday, so I wanted to do something that would be A) fun and B) make an impact. And I thought, "Hey, what do teenagers do a lot in high school? Have sex. Let's make a point about safe sex." ... Condoms aren't really expensive -- they can stop people from ruining their lives.
MTV: How long did the costume take to design, and why did you pick Trojan Man specifically?
Englund: It took an hour or two over the weekend. It was mostly just spray paint and some tape. Trojan Man is an icon in the commercials for condoms. I feel like Trojan's a more well-known brand -- I'm a fan of Trojan -- so I thought I'd stick with what I know.
MTV: How long did it take for the faculty to notice?
Englund: I put the costume on in the morning when I got out of my car in the parking lot. I was first seen by friends and other students -- they were all generally positive. Some people approved of the message of safe sex, some laughed it off, but mostly all were positive.
My first-period teacher saw me in the hall and said, "That's inappropriate." I just sort of kept walking, shook it off, but he sent me to the administration office, where I was told to remove the costume and leave it there for the day. ... I was treated rudely when I was sent to the office -- it was very brusque by the teacher.
MTV: Were any other students' costumes deemed inappropriate?
Englund: There were other edgy things I am trying to think of, but nothing else very notable. Mostly there were people in onesies for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, people dressed up as Mario and Luigi...
MTV: Were you threatened with suspension for not complying?
Englund: No, I complied right away. They told me to take it off and I did and left it there, because I didn't want to get in any more trouble than I might have already been in.
MTV: Are you known as the class clown?
Englund: I've never done anything like this before! Within the band, I'm known as a kind of funny person, but before now I was not terribly well-known throughout the school.
MTV: How'd it originally make the news?
Englund: I went to the media. I knew going in, there would be a risk wearing the costume -- they could make me take it off and stop promoting the message of safe sex -- so I was prepared with a press release, which I emailed to the Orlando Sentinel. They picked up the story and it snowballed from there.
MTV: You wrote the press release in advance?! Were you hoping this would happen?
Englund: This is not the reaction I wanted at all. I wasn't expecting or hoping for this -- I didn't want to send [the press release], but...I just prepared myself to. I was thinking the Sentinel would run a small story; never did I think I would get called by MTV the next day.
MTV: Do you personally know anyone who has dealt with pregnancy or an STD from not being safe?
Englund: I actually have a few friends my age who have recently become pregnant from unprotected sex. I also have a very close friend who had contracted an STD from unprotected sex.
MTV: Does your school have comprehensive sex education?
Englund: We are all required to take HOPE -- Health Opportunities through Physical Education -- and there's a very small unit on STDs, safe sex and contraception...it's not a lot of sex ed, just enough to say they did it.
MTV: Is it fair to say your costume has sparked more conversation than the actual curriculum?
Englund: By far. By far more conversation than in class. ... I think schools could teach a real class or maybe just have an assembly at some point in the year -- say something about it, make sure people actually learn something -- or at the very least, allow students to get the message out there. Don't stop them from getting it out there by making them take off a piece of cardboard!
MTV: Have any of your teachers been supportive?
Englund: I've gotten some positive feedback from some of my teachers who like the message and think it's cool that it's in the news. I haven't heard anything from the administration -- it's definitely a concern the administration is going to decide to do something [to punish me for speaking out], but nothing has happened yet.
MTV: What do your parents think about the whole fiasco?
Englund: My parents are very supportive about it -- they didn't think it was the greatest idea to go into school with a Trojan Man costume on, but they like the message I'm putting out. My mom says she always likes supporting her kids when they color outside the lines.
MTV: Do you want to go into health advocacy after college?
Englund: My main interest is music performance -- I'm a tuba player -- but I definitely do have significant interest in political science. I plan on either double majoring or making political science a minor.
MTV: Halloween is 30 days away. Are you breaking Trojan Man out again, or designing a totally different costume?
Englund: I'm not sure what I'm doing for Halloween yet, but I can definitely see myself sporting the Trojan Man costume to some parties, maybe even [bringing] some safe sex goody bags to hand out to friends, so that every man can be a Trojan Man.
Visit MTV’s It’s Your Sex Life website to learn more about pregnancy and sexual health.