Part of Outsports’ series on our 100 most important moments in gay sports history.
Sports, 2001: Mark Bingham was a passenger on Flight 93, which was commandeered by Al Qaeda hijackers on Sept. 11, who tried to fly the plane into the U.S. Capitol. Along with other passengers, Bingham stormed the cockpit and brought down the plane over Shanksville, Pa.
After his death, Bingham's sexual orientation became known worldwide. An openly gay man and rugby player was a hero and he was eulogized days later by U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and John McCain. Cyd and I both knew Bingham from flag football when our L.A. team played his from San Francisco. He was a warm, friendly, competitive and spirited man who took great pride in breaking down stereotypes about gays in sports.
Here is an e-mail Bingham wrote after his San Francisco Fog gay rugby team was accepted into a straight California league:
"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.
As we worked and sweated and ran and talked together this year, I finally felt accepted as a gay man and a rugby player. My two irreconcilable worlds came together.
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. Congratulations, my brothers in rugby.
Bingham's passion for rugby has been memorialized in the Bingham Cup tournament, held every two years. "Hero" is a word thrown around very loosely, but Bingham was the very definition of one.
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