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Mark Bingham



On 11 September 2001 terrorists took control of four commercial passenger jets, intending to use them as missiles against American landmarks. Two of the planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, and one was crashed into the Pentagon Building in Washington, DC. The fourth airplane, believed to have been targeting either the White House or the United States Capitol, was deflected when a group of passengers fought back against the hijackers. It crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, killing all people on board. One of the passengers who fought back was Mark Bingham, Class of 1993.

Bingham was a champion rugby player who helped the Golden Bears to earn national titles in 1991 and 1993. He remained a life-long Bear Backer, a fanatic sports enthusiast, a devoted alumnus, and a proud gay man. On 22 September 2001 a memorial service was held in Wheeler Auditorium, at which his family and friends spoke of his irrepressible spirit and his fierce loyalty to his country, his team and his university. U.S. Senator John McCain, whom Bingham had backed as a Presidential candidate, spoke to the mourners:

I love my country, and I take pride in serving her. But I cannot say that I love her more or as well as Mark Bingham did, or the other heroes on United Flight 93 who gave their lives to prevent our enemies from inflicting an even greater injury on our country. It has been my fate to witness great courage and sacrifice for America’s sake, but none greater than the selfless sacrifice of Mark Bingham and those good men who grasped the gravity of the moment, understood the threat, and decided to fight back at the cost of their lives....

It is now believed that the terrorists on Flight 93 intended to crash the airplane into the United States Capitol where I work, the great house of democracy where I was that day. It is very possible that I would have been in the building, with a great many other people, when that fateful, terrible moment occurred, and a beautiful symbol of our freedom was destroyed along with hundreds if not thousands of lives. I may very well owe my life to Mark and the others who summoned the enormous courage and love necessary to deny those depraved, hateful men their terrible triumph. Such a debt you incur for life....

I never knew Mark Bingham. But I wish I had. I know he was a good son and friend, a good rugby player, a good American, and an extraordinary human being. He supported me, and his support now ranks among the greatest honors of my life. I wish I had known before September 11 just how great an honor his trust in me was. I wish I could have thanked him for it more profusely than time and circumstances allowed. But I know it now. And I thank him with the only means I possess, by being as good an American as he was.

Bingham’s involvement with rugby did not end with his graduation from Cal. He joined the San Francisco Fog gay rugby team, where he was known by the nickname of “Bear Trap.” When the team was accepted as a permanent member of the (straight) Northern California Rugby Football Union, Bingham wrote to his teammates of his pride and of his personal journey:

When I started playing rugby at the age of 16, I always thought that my interest in other guys would be an anathema — completely repulsive to the guys on my team — and to the people I was knocking the shit out of on the other team. I loved the game, but KNEW I would need to keep my sexuality a secret forever. I feared total rejection.....

Now we’ve been accepted into the union and the road is going to get harder. We need to work harder. We need to get better. We have the chance to be role models for other gay folks who wanted to play sports, but never felt good enough or strong enough. More importantly, we have the chance to show the other teams in the league that we are as good as they are. Good rugby players. Good partiers. Good sports. Good men.

Gay men weren’t always wallflowers waiting on the sideline. We have the opportunity to let these other athletes know that gay men were around all along — on their little league teams, in their classes, being their friends.

This is a great opportunity to change a lot of people’s minds, and to reach a group that might never have had to know or hear about gay people.

Let’s go make some new friends ... and win a few games.

In June 2002 the first annual Bingham Cup rugby tournament took place in Golden Gate Park as part of San Francisco’s Gay Pride weekend. Gay rugby teams traveled from around the world to compete. Bingham’s own San Francisco Fog took first place, winning the first Bingham Cup.

Read More About It

  • Mark Bingham website:
  • Jon Barrett, Hero of Flight 93: Mark Bingham (Boston : Alyson, 2002)
  • Lisa Beamer, Let’s Roll!: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage (Wheaton, IL : Tyndale House, 2002)
  • Jere Longman, Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew Who Fought Back (New York : HarperCollins, 2002)

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