Mark Bingham.

Yes. He’s the guy who inspired my return to blogging.

I’ve been stumbling upon many interesting stories that never quite make the cut for my radio show or my contributions on Boots & All – probably the most irritating thing about working in broadcasting: never enough time on air!

I figured since I already have this convenient little corner of the interwebs available to me, why not expand my reach a bit?

I’d like to start posting about all the crazy stories I find, events I attend (e.g. the Comedy Central Roast of Steve Hofmeyr – anyone interested on my thoughts?) and adventures I go on (recently visited the Seychelles – who needs travel tips?).

So who’s this Mark Bingham guy, you wonder? And how did I find out about him?

The book…in case you want to know more

Well, it was the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks this week. The same week Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and former Wallabies captain John Eales announced their support for Sydney’s bid to host the Gay Rugby World Championships in 2014. Imagine my surprise when I found out the two are closely connected!

Mark Bingham overslept on the morning of September the 11th, 2001.
So much so that he nearly missed his flight from Newark to San Francisco.
He was the very last person to board flight United 93.

From the bits of information pieced together after the fact it became clear that there was a group of passengers who retaliated when the hi-jackers made their intentions clear that morning. Mark managed to phone his mom from the plane before the incident took place. What makes Mark a fascinating member of this group of passengers is the fact that he didn’t fit anyone’s cookie-cutter idea of the all-American hero.

Back home in San Francisco he was not only the owner of a PR company and the loving partner of 6 years to Paul Holm, but he was also a prominent member of the San Francisco Fog RFC, a rugby club where he both coached and played 8th man. Rugby, not American Football.

He first started playing rugby in college, at Berkeley – where his team won 2 national rugby titles in three years.

In his memory the University of California, Berkeley now annually awards the outstanding achievement of a young alumnus or alumna with the Mark Bingham Award for Excellence in Achievement.

Melissa Etheridge dedicated the song “Tuesday Morning” to his memory in 2004.

And if you ever visit New York’s National 9/11 Memorial, go look for Mark’s name memorialized at the South Pool, on Panel S-67, along with other passengers on Flight 93.

Gives you chills, doesn’t it?

But if you’re really curious about his biggest legacy keep an eye on the development of the Mark Kendall Bingham Memorial Tournament. Widely known as the Bingham Cup, the tournament was first held in 2002 when only around 8 gay-inclusive rugby clubs existed, worldwide. In 2012 the sixth installment of this bi-annual, amateur, gay-friendly, rugby tournament was held in Manchester with more than 1500 participants from 15 countries representing more than 30 clubs.

Clubs like the Sydney Convicts (Australia), Muddy York (Toronto, Canada),
Emerald Warriors (Dublin, Ireland), Amsterdam NOP (Netherlands) and the Cardiff Lions (United Kingdom), to name but a few.

I can’t help but wonder about why a separate, gay rugby world championship in the rugby community is really necessary… Is it empowerment that has lead gay rugby players (who obviously don’t feel accepted in mainstream clubs and teams) to start their own clubs and have their own world championship or is it simply a sad reflection on how much prejudice still exists in rugby?

What I also find interesting is that this seems to be a trend mostly limited to the Northern hemisphere, with only the Sydney Convicts representing the entire Southern hemisphere.

For now, the Convicts hold the title of Bingham Cup Champs and they plan to defend that title at home in 2014.

Any South Africans out there keen to take them on…?