(This story was published in 2001).
Alice Hoagland's son, Mark Bingham, died in the crash of hijacked Flight 93 in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11. She recounted the words she spoke at his memorial:
``The last game Mark played, it wasn't on a broad, grassy field. It was in the narrow cockpit and cabin of a Boeing 757 hurtling over the Pennsylvania countryside.
``And his teammates were not particularly practiced. They were a pickup team. They threw themselves together. I hope they had some strategy and they stood shoulder to shoulder and did what they had to do.''
These beautiful and eloquent words, which so well summed up her son, are the emotional high points of a terrific segment about Bingham on HBO's ``Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.'' (The show will air seven more times this month.)
Bingham is the gay rugby player who, along with other passengers on the hijacked United flight, is credited with battling the terrorists and bringing the plane down away from populated areas. They have been universally described as heroes.
The segment--reported by Mary Carillo and produced by Nick Dolin--is a very personal look at Bingham's relationship with San Francisco Fog, the predominately gay rugby club he was a member of.
``Good Sports, Good Men,'' the title of the segment, is taken from an e-mail Bingham had sent to team members earlier this year. It provides much of the context that holds HBO's story together. It was a ringing affirmation of Bingham's acceptance of his sexuality and how sports were an integral part of that.
``We need to work harder. We need to get better,'' Bingham wrote. ``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.''
As Carillo tells members of Fog, ``It was an incredible message he left just before he died.''
Bingham's teammates tell of a guy who ``showed up [on the field] like a freight train.'' who ``had no fear,'' who ``made everyone feel like they belonged,'' and who ``first and foremost was an athlete.''
That latter point is stressed when teammates are asked how Bingham would feel about all the attention he's getting for being a ``gay American hero.'' Being gay would be ``ninth or 10th'' on the list of how Bingham would have described himself,'' one teammate says, ``behind being a pickup basketball player.''
The segment succeeds because it is moving while not wallowing in cheap sentimentality or emotion. Bingham's teammates talk about how the best way to honor Bingham's memory is by becoming a better team. And Carillo gets some laughs when she asks whether there are any ulterior (i.e. sexual) benefits from being on a gay team. ``There are a lot less painful ways to meet guys,'' one player says.
``Real Sports'' consistently provides the most literate and well-produced examinations of sports and its attendant issues on television. ``Good Sports. Good Men'' carries on this honorable tradition.