Rugby's Bingham Cup Remembers a Hero

As a rugby player for several years, with Paula the Surf Mom calling me a "rugby great" back in my college days, this story really hit a soft spot in my heart, and one that any sports enthusiast could find solace in. This is the story of one incredibly brave, gay, rugby-playing hero.

Mark Kendall Bingham, a 6 ft 4 in, 225 pound openly gay American born May 22, 1970 in Phoenix, Arizona was a force to be reckoned with... on the rugby field. Off the field, he was a gentle human-being, a partner of six years and above all, a hero. Read on for his brave and touching story...

On September 11, 2001, when 31-year-old Mark Bingham, rugby player and a public relations executive from San Francisco boarded United Airlines Flight 93 in Newark, NJ, little did he know that the flight he was about to get on, would go down in September 11 history. Sadly, on that day, United Airlines Flight 93 did not reach its intended destination; instead it crashed in an empty field just outside Shanksville, PA, about 150 miles northwest of Washington, D.C.

The 9/11 Commission, through testimony, tapes of passengers' phone calls, and the flight data recorders recovered from the crash determined that crew and passengers, alerted through phone calls to loved ones, had overpowered the most of the hijackers. The Commission concluded that the remaining hijackers then crashed the plane to keep the crew and passengers from regaining control.

Mark Bingham is believed to have been among the passengers who attempted to storm the cockpit to try to prevent the hijackers from using the plane to kill hundreds or thousands of additional victims. He made a brief airphone call to his mother, Alice Hoglan, shortly before the plane went down. Hoglan, a former flight attendant with United Airlines, later left a voicemail message on his cell phone, instructing Bingham to reclaim the aircraft after it became apparent that Flight 93 was to be used in a suicide mission.

Mark is survived by his former partner of six years, Paul Holm, who says this was not the first time Bingham risked his life to protect the lives of others. He had twice successfully protected Holm from attempted muggings, one of which was at gunpoint. Holm describes Bingham as a brave, competitive man, saying, "He hated to lose — at anything." He was even known to proudly display a scar he received after being gored at the running of the bulls in Pamplona.

Bingham was also a keen rugby player, playing for one of USA’s leading gay & bisexual rugby teams - San Francisco Fog RFC.

In 2002, a coordinating group of gay & bisexual rugby teams based around the globe got together to create IGRAB, a body to promote rugby as an all-inclusive non-discriminatory sport which everyone can play, regardless of sexuality. The formation of this body led to the inauguration of a new international rugby competition which, in a unanimous decision by all the members of IGRAB, became known as the Bingham Cup.

The first Bingham Cup was held in 2002 and hosted by the San Francisco Fog, Mark Bingham’s home team. That year, eight teams traveled to California to compete over two days with the Fog coming out on top as the Cup’s first winners. In 2004, the Bingham Cup was hosted by London’s Kings Cross Steelers. From eight teams just two years prior, twenty teams from four countries were fielded for the 2004 Bingham Cup which was won for the second time by the San Francisco Fog. New York's Gotham Knights took up the host mantle in 2006 and along with the addition of a third day of match play the Knights presided over a new mid-tier competition (The Bowl) and an inaugural Women's competition. That year the Cup and Plate were won by the Sydney Convicts and The Bowl was won by the Boston Ironsides.
SF Fog win The Bingham Cup® in June 2002 in San Francisco
Photo by Allan Lee

This Friday, June 13th, 2008, the 6th Annual Bingham Cup will commence in Dublin, Ireland for 5 consecutive days of a tournament focused on fair competition, rugby skills development, value for money, camaraderie and having the craic (What's the craic? Craic is an irish language word for good times/gossip/music/drinking/debauchery of any kind/or good clean fun). Sounds like good old-fashioned Rugby to me!

In addition to having an entire rugby tournament named in his honor, Mark Bingham has received many memorials, including:

  • John McCain and Barbara Boxer honored him in a ceremony for San Francisco Bay Area victims on September 17, 2001, presenting a folded American flag to Paul Holm.
  • The California Alumni Association of the University of California, Berkeley now annually awards the outstanding achievement of a young alumnus or alumna with the Mark Bingham Award for Excellence in Achievement at its Charter Gala each spring.
  • The Mark Kendall Bingham Memorial Tournament (Bingham Cup), a biannual international rugby union competition predominantly for gay and bisexual men, was established in 2002 in his memory.
  • Bingham was posthumously awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in 2002.
  • Singer Melissa Etheridge dedicated the song "Tuesday Morning" in 2004 to his memory.
  • Is portrayed in the 2004 solo musical ICONS: The Lesbian and Gay History of the World, Vol. 2 starring Jade Esteban Estrada.
  • Is portrayed in the 2006 movie 'United 93' by Cheyenne Jackson.
  • Is portrayed in the 2006 movie 'Flight 93' by Ty Olsson.
  • Is portrayed in the 2005 movie 'The Flight That Fought Back' by Jason LeGrande.

    I would like to dedicate this article to the All-American Rugby player and hero, Mark Bingham, and share with you the song "Tuesday Morning", by Melissa Etheridge, which was written in his memory:

    10:03 on a Tuesday morning
    in the fall of an American dream
    a man is doing what he knows is right
    on flight 93

    Loved his mom and he loved his dad
    loved his home and he loved his man
    but on that bloody Tuesday morning
    he died an American

    Even though he could not marry
    Or teach your children in our schools
    Because who he wants to love
    Is breaking your God's rules

    He stood up on a Tuesday Morning
    In the terror he was brave
    And he made his choice and without a doubt
    A hundred lives he must have saved

    And the things you might take for granted
    Your inalienable rights
    Some might choose to deny him
    Even though he gave his life

    Can you live with yourself in the land of the free
    And make him less of a hero than the other three
    Well it might begin to change ya
    In a field in Pennsylvania

    Stand up America
    Hear the bell now as it tolls
    Wake up America
    It's Tuesday Morning
    Let's roll….
    Melissa Etheridge - Tuesday Morning

  • 1 comment:

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