Blaine High School wrestler Malik Stewart had lost a state tournament match last week. The 15-year-old could have quietly walked off in defeat. He was so close to such a big win – he'd have been entitled to a moment of self-reflection.
But he wasn't thinking about himself at all. Instead, he went over to Steve McKee, a man with cancer and the father of his victorious opponent, now-state champion Mitchell McKee of St. Michael-Albertville.
Malik knew Mitchell – they had wrestled together before – and he knew Mitchell's father was ailing. Malik had lost his own father at age 7.
So the wrestler shook hands with his opponent's dad, and they embraced in a moment captured in several frames by photographer Vanessa Schlueter:
The gesture earned Stewart a standing ovation at Xcel Energy Center and moved many in the crowd to tears.
But Stewart wasn't ready for what came next. Blaine High School thanked Stewart for the simple act of kindness in a Facebook post, and the story promptly went viral, drawing national attention, the Star Tribune notes in a follow-up that delves deeper into the story.
All of which left Stewart "shocked" over the attention.
“I told him to stay strong and congratulated him,” Malik told Steve McKee, he recalled for the Star Tribune. “It wasn’t something I planned.”
Stewart also had not planned on the intense spotlight that comes with being an Internet sensation. The story was featured on, among others, ABC News, Sports Illustrated's website, and NBC's "Today" show, where co-host Tamron Hall set it up with, "This moment out of Minnesota is so heartwarming, it is absolutely beautiful."
Steve McKee, 50, of Hanover, told the Star Tribune that he initially thought Stewart was offering a handshake, but it became a now-famous embrace.
“Now, I couldn’t have been prouder at the moment of my son, Mitchell. But after Malik gave that hug, I said to the guy I was sitting next to, ‘That’s a class act right there,’ ” McKee told the Star Tribune.
"When you go out there, you want to win," Stewart said on "Today." "But if you don't win, you have got to be a good sport and you be polite. That's the biggest part."