A Tribute to Mark Bingham

ABOVE: Mark with members of the London Steelers (Washington DC, May 2001)

One of our brothers, Mark Bingham, was tragically taken from us Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, during the terrorist attack on our nation. He was one of the 38 passengers on hijacked United Airlines flight 93 that crashed outside of Pittsburgh. Mark was 31 years old.

Mark epitomized what it means to be a Fog rugger, and we all learned a great deal from him. Aside from being a superb player, “Bear Trap” was a true gentleman and a generous friend. He will be sorely missed.

What follows are e-mails and notes and news stories about Mark, and how he touched so many of our lives.

Be well, Mark. We love you and miss you tremendously.

In Mark’s own words

The team received this email from Mark a few weeks before his passing. He wrote it when he learned that the Fog had been accepted as a permanent member of the Northern California Rugby Football Union:

Wow! What an inspiring email. This is a huge step forward for gay rugby.

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.

mb

Tributes

From Lance Martin, teammate:

It is being speculated that our brother was one of two who rushed the hijackers and brought the plane down before it was able to reach its target.

For those of us who knew Mark, we know, if he was able, it indeed was him.

We love you Mark.

From Big Dave, teammate:

You were so full of life — with so much accomplished in your short stay on this earth. I haven’t known you for a very long time, but we bonded right away, knowing we had so much in common. I grieve and pray for your family and friends, who know so well that you didn’t go down without a fight. Look after all of us from above.

You were a good man…our teammate…our friend…our hero.

We will miss you so dearly.

Onward through the Fog, Big D.

From Scott, friend in NYC:

I met Mark online through a mutual friend about 3 years ago. We quickly became friends and had so much in common. We both had played rugby for years and talked a lot about the struggle of being gay ruggers in a very straight rugger world. His recent e-mail sure struck a chord with me. It’s hard to think of what I gained by knowing him and forget about what I missed. I think about the pictures he took a few years ago when we hung out in NYC when he was looking for an office here and how I bugged him to show them to me and how I never got around to seeing them. I think about the times this summer when he was in NYC and we just never got around to getting together him being busy or me being busy — just always seems to be time for that. Recently we had been talking about getting a team together in NYC. I told him I would not be able to do it without his help. He was an incredible person and I will miss him. I kick myself for the times we played phone tag or brushed each other off online. I hope in the future I will not miss opportunities to make time for friends again.

My thoughts are with his family and all his friends in the Fog. Shoot a boot for him at your next match or just get drunk and sing loud. Am sure that is what he would have wanted.

Take care Scott

From Todd Ormsbee, teammate:

I’m glad that I was with you guys last night when I received the news of Mark’s death. Being with friends whom I love was the only thing that made it easier.

I had a hard time sleeping, still waiting to hear from friends in New York. A few more calls came from dear friends in New York throughout the night. I have now accounted for everyone I knew in New York.

When I woke up and turned on the TV, Mark’s mom was talking to NBC news. She is an amazing woman. She said that she feels privileged that she was able to receive the news of Mark’s death from Mark himself, that it somehow made it better, and that she is sure that Mark had a hand in bringing the plane down short of its target.

When he wasn’t throwing M’n’Ms at my face in a drunken playful mood to get my attention, Mark was a kind and warm man. I feel privileged to have known him. I will miss him on and off the pitch.

Take care mates.

Love and peace, Todd

From Mike Grant, teammate:

It has taken me hours and hours to actually sit down and write this email. I have started, lost composure, got lost along the way in the writing, and had to start over. As a “writer”, I try to think of myself as being able to write what I feel, but it is very difficult, but I am determined to do so. I am holding back tears, keeping them locked in my throat.

From the get go, Mark was an inspiration to me. I remember wanting so desperately to kick his butt on the rugby pitch after he so easily plowed me over down at Delores Park. Nice first impression! When we went back for the social he and I hit it off and my need to “kick his butt” ended immediately.

Over the course of the next few months I got to know him pretty well and the name “Bear Trap” fit him so very well. The changes over him in the last 9 months were dramatic, I saw him getting more comfortable with himself and his surroundings.

As for Rugby, well there was no one more spirited, both on and off the field. For me, he was a constant source of compliments…and his criticism was always from the heart and was truly constructive in EVERY sense of the word.

He called me two days after my surgery and we talked for almost 30 minutes about the surgery and if there was anything he could do for me. We talked about the team and what it meant to him. I knew where his head was in that moment during our conversation, for I too was once closeted (oh so many years ago) and had the same transformation when I joined the gay softball league.

When we ended our conversation, he said he loved me, wished me a happy birthday, a speedy recovery and that he wanted, and needed me, on the pitch. I told him I loved him too and we laughed as two buds do, and promised we would see each other on the 15th at practice.

Truly there are not enough words to describe this unique loving and generous individual.

He was a mate and a good, dear friend.

I will miss him and love him always.

Your mate always guys, Mike

From Alexandro:

Though I never met Mark, we communicated through email. As someone who have had -and has- issues integrating a sense of homosexuality, I found comfort in his messages. His replies were very inspiring and heartfelt giving me a new chance to establish positive points of reference in my current life, and for future endeavors.

I join you in your pain and know that not everything is lost.

From Bryce Eberhardt, teammate:

A few thoughts on Mark… Like so many people who cared about Mark, I’m deeply saddened by his passing. I go back and forth between tears and laughing over memories of the great times we all had with him. Today, in the face of this great tragedy, I am taking a small amount of comfort in the growing body of evidence indicating that Mark was a hero. Mark’s mother said she believes that to be true and many of us were speculating about it last night because we “know Mark,” but now the facts are starting to confirm many of our suspicions. Here’s what we know:

Mark called his mother to say he loved her. He was levelheaded and in control.

Thomas Burnett of San Ramon, California, called his wife and said: “I know we’re all going to die – there’s three of us who are going to do something about it.”

According to his mother, Mark was sitting in “towards the front of the plane” and, a VP at a tech company, Mr. Burnett was probably in first class too.

A senior U.S. intelligence official told MSNBC.com that mobile phone communications from Flight 93 indicate that three passengers overpowered the hijackers but were unable to maintain control of the plane.

Out of four planes that were hijacked, the plane Mark Bingham was on failed to hit its target — that, I believe, is no coincidence.

If there was an attempt to take back the plane, Mark was part of it. He refused to give in to fear, and probably saved many lives. Amazing.

I am honored to have known Mark and played rugby with him. One of Mark’s favorite rugger quotes was from Shakespeare’s Henry V, “For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.” We battled hard with Mark by our side. Mark was our brother, and he considered us his. As a brother, he was supportive, inspiring, insightful, hilarious, at times obnoxious, always smart and endlessly loyal. He was a hero in his ability to make sure no one ever felt left out. He was a hero with his contagious zest for living. He was a hero to his own family. And, quite possibly, he was a hero to countless other families who woke up this morning and had breakfast with each other because of his actions.

I’m going to miss him.

From Chris Zerlaut, teammate:

I, too, find comfort in knowing that our brother Mark would not have stood by allowing the hijackers to accomplish their goal without a fight. Even when he was knocked down, he got up and fought. I am truly honored to have known him.

I remember driving him to the hospital in DC and spending half the day with him as he slept peacefully on morphine after his dislocation was reduced. You should have seen him – he was like an innocent little boy. It was a funny and telling sight as he awoke and demanded that we get back to the pitch ASAP to support our teammates. “God dam it… I’ll walk if I have to. Let’s go! Did we win?” That was his first thought guys — to support the team. That just really illustrated to me a) what a nut he was and b) how much he loved and supported this team.

I was so psyched to meet a gay guy into college football. We had planned to catch a few games in Strawberry Canyon this Fall. I was really looking forward to that actually and he emailed me a few weeks ago and said he was psyched too. And as I remembered last night that the Cal/UW game was in a couple of weeks, it just brought me to tears.

My emotions have wavered between tears and laughter and anger -thinking of that crazy Bear Trap – watching this masculine “butch” guy who’s into rugby and football sing Madonna’s rendition of “Don’t Cry for me Argentina” was truly a moment … his hand gestures during “Wish all the Boys…” … his funky lanky gallop across the pitch … always turning the biggest guy in any bar into putty with his sexy eyes … his competitiveness — yelling to motivate everyone, being overly aggressive at times … his love for his mom and family and friends. That was who Mark was. Like Bryce said, you learn quickly about the guy — he was truly a “supportive, inspiring, insightful, hilarious, at times obnoxious, always smart and endlessly loyal” brother.

Although I’m angry that his life was cut short, his death was not without meaning – it reminded me how precious and important all of you are to me. His life, his words in his poignant email, his play on and off the field, his loyalty to the team, his take-charge manner and his friendship will always be precious to me as well.

Bear Trap, you are missed.

Statement from Cal rugby coach Jack Clark on former player Mark Bingham:

Mark was just recently on campus this spring with his teammates during a reunion of the 1991 national championship team. The rugby program, as well as the entire Cal family, is devastated by this tragedy. Mark was a very bright, athletic young man who was in the prime of his life. Our hearts go out to his family and friends in this moment of great sorrow.

From Alvin Mangosing, teammate:

I’ve had a really hard time coming to grips with what’s happened. I mean, being young and barely having a grasp of who I am, is pretty tough. But then you meet guys like Mark and my mates on the Fog, it just makes things in life so much easier to figure out. I had finally met a great group of guys who knew how I felt and could relate to the same things I did. Very passionate and driven about life. I am appreciative and grateful for them.

The interactions I’ve had with Mark were few, but they were valuable to me. When I first met Mark at Dario’s, he was wearing his Cal Rugby warmup jacket. With a bit of disgust and UC Davis Pride thought, “Argh, not a Cal rugger!” Haha…But geez, it wasn’t until Mark sang rugby songs, none the less made up his own lyrics and sang off key, I did I really question whether or not I wanted to play on this guy’s team! Mark of course redeemed himself by his great performance of “Don’t cry for me, Argentina” in DC.

Mark (far left) singing “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” with the Buenos Aires team at the DC tourney

At the tournament in DC, Mark and I talked about how great it was to finally play on a team where our sexual orientations weren’t an issue on the field or at the socials. It was great to hear his Cal rugby stories, and to also have him shed some light on my UC Davis experiences, making things easier for me to figure out. A true rugger, and a true friend.

So, to a man who I admire and will miss dearly. I raise my pint, wipe away my tears, and sing to my hero… HEEYYYYY BOBBERY BOB! A ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR!!…

-Alvin