By Staff News.com.au
WHEN Alice Bingham received a phone call from her son Mark early on the morning of September 11, 2001, telling her the flight he was on from Newark to San Francisco had been hijacked, she was surprisingly calm.
“I knew he would do the right thing,” she said.
Alice remembers that phone call, the last time she spoke to the rugby player and aspiring filmmaker, perfectly.
“Mum, this is Mark Bingham,” she recalls him saying. “I knew it was something serious because he wouldn’t usually use his last name with me, I’m his mother.”
The 31-year-old was on board United Airlines Flight 93 travelling from Newark to San Francisco. When al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked the flight, the rugby player called his mum and told her the plane had been taken over by some guys who said they had a bomb.
“You believe me, don’t you mum,” he said.
“I just want to tell you that I love you.”
Alice calmly told her son she loved him and that, yes, she did believe him, before hanging up. Moments later when she told Mark’s brother what was happening, Alice grew anxious and desperate to get back on the phone to tell him to take get to the cockpit, take control of the situation and protect as many people as he could.
“I left that message but he didn’t get it. There were more than 40 messages waiting for him when his phone was recovered,” she said.
“But he did exactly what I hoped he would do, I knew he would.”
Mark led the charge in wresting control of the cockpit. After an incredible struggle, the plane crash-landed, killing 40 people, but sparing many more lives that would have been destroyed had the plane reached its target in Washington.
Mark lost his life that day in an incredible show of strength, but he wasn’t always so strong.
Although he spent the last few years of his life as proud gay man, the rugby player had struggled.
At 6”4’ and weighing about 100kg, Mark didn’t face the same physical abuse that some of his gay friends were subject to, but he struggled to cope mentally and worried he wouldn’t be accepted.
Surprisingly, he found strength in the game of rugby, which he played through high school and college to become a local sports star. His sexuality was never an issue with teammates.
“The sport gave him so much strength,” his mum said.
“His high school coach said to him once, ‘You can get used to getting hit in the face’, and I think he did. It made him stronger.”
Mark stood up for himself and made sure he was accepted. He was embraced by the community and wanted to make sure other gay men and women were as well. And that’s exactly the legacy he’s left with the Bingham Cup, the world cup of gay rugby, named in his honour.
A few months before he died, Mark participated in a rugby tournament for gay men in San Francisco playing with the San Francisco Fog, a team of gay players he helped found and saw accepted into the Californian Football Union.
After Mark’s death, Alice received a call from some of the team’s players saying they wanted to expand the competition and name it the Bingham Cup.
When Mark died there were only six gay and inclusive rugby clubs. Now the competition has grown in to an international league of its own, with the sixth Bingham Cup kicking off this Sunday in Sydney, expected to draw about 1000 players and spectators throughout the four-day tournament.
“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,” Mark wrote in an email to the CFU once his gay football team was accepted.
“More importantly, we have the chance to show the other teams in the league that we are as good they are. Good rugby players. Good partiers. Good sports. Good men.”
Although she remembers it as a tragic day, Mark’s mum, who has travelled to Sydney from her San Francisco home for the Cup, couldn’t be prouder of what her son did on September 11 and the legacy he’s left behind.
“There isn’t much good news to come out of 9/11, apart from a group of guys who fought and I couldn’t be prouder that Mark was one of them,” Alice said.
“He would be so proud to see the Bingham Cup. He’s really made a difference.”
Mark Bingham was also a hobby filmmaker. The Rugby Player, which weaves in some of Mark’s own footage in telling his story, airs tonight at 8.30pm on ABC2, and is also available on iView.