On Sept. 11, 2001, Mark Bingham was a passenger on United Airlines Flight 93, and one of the heroes who stopped the plane from reaching its intended target, the U.S. Capitol building.
In Sunday’s SC Featured segment on SportsCenter, viewers will learn that it is the lives Bingham saved, and those he has impacted since his passing, that help to define his legacy.
Bingham was one of 33 passengers and seven crew members who perished when the plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania. Afterward, he was identified in some obituaries as a “gay rugby player.”
“The impact those three words had together in that obituary is where we take the story,” said Ben Webber, producer of the segment for the ESPN Features Unit.
Originally, Webber was going to do a feature on the Gotham Knights, a predominantly gay rugby team in New York that was founded in honor of Bingham. But when he dug deeper into the story, Webber discovered more.
“The biggest part of his story was not just one inclusive rugby team,” Webber said. “It’s the number [of teams] that have formed since his death because of the hero that he was.”
From its beginnings in 2000, when Bingham was one of the early members of the San Francisco Fog, inclusive rugby has grown worldwide. In 2002, an event was started to carry his name.
“Every two years, they have the world cup of inclusive rugby, where every inclusive rugby team in the world comes to win the Bingham Cup,” Webber said. “It’s been all over the world, as has Mark’s story, which has allowed countless gay men who also enjoy rugby to be comfortable, which was not really the case before Mark passed.”
Reporter Tom Rinaldi and Webber recorded interviews in San Francisco with Bingham’s mother, Alice Hoagland, and founding members of the Fog. Then, Webber went to the Bingham Cup in Nashville, Tenn., for more interviews and video.
“I think what’s exceptional about this story and what makes it neat to me is all of these people who are there know Mark’s story,” Webber said. “To them maybe more so than being a hero on 9/11 is that he was a gay rugby player, and that’s what they are, and they couldn’t identify themselves as that until after they heard his story.
“He changed so many lives and his impact continues to this day,” he said.
The feature will debut in the 10 a.m. ET SportsCenter and re-air in other editions throughout the day.