It’s easy to be a good sport after a win. Not so much after a loss. But Malik Stewart proved that even when you lose, you can be a hero.
In the moments after Malik was defeated by Mitchell McKee in the 2014 Minnesota Class 3A State High School Wrestling Championship, Malik shook hands with and embraced Mitchell. He then went over to Mitchell’s coaches and shook hands, as is customary. Finally, in an uncommon yet extraordinary act, Malik walked over to shake Steve McKee’s hand and embraced him as well.
Steve is Mitchell’s father and Malik was moved and inspired by Steve’s battle against terminal cancer. Malik lost his father when he was only seven. The gravity of the moment was not lost on Malik. He told KARE-TV, “I went through the same thing when I was younger but my dad didn’t pass by cancer. It was by a heart attack, so I know what he is going through.”
The moment was not lost on Mitchell, either. He realized the personal sacrifice Malik was making and the humility he was showing even after a loss in the state championship. “It was a big match for him and to be able to hug my dad like that and not storm off like a lot of kids do…really respectful,” Mitchell said.
Malik’s show of sportsmanship even permeated the crowd – so much so that an assistant middle school wrestling coach in the audience wrote a letter of praise to Malik’s school district. The coach wrote, “The whole crowd gave a standing ovation, not just for [Mitchell] and his father, but for Stewart, who understands what true sportsmanship is. Thank you for making your athletes into what they are today. Mr. Stewart is a model wrestler that we can all use in our examples of what a true athlete is.”
Even more remarkable was Malik’s ability to reflect in the moment. He was fully aware of the impact his actions had on Mitchell. Malik said, “He won. He was pretty proud and his dad was pretty proud. So, I went over there and I shook his hand, embraced him a little bit and told him to stay strong and everybody loves him.”
While sports often bring out a “win at all costs” attitude – especially at the state championship level – Malik was able to display a more mature and profound mentality. In such a competitive atmosphere, he brought a more understanding mindset to the mat that day. Malik’s kind gesture toward his opponent will be appreciated long after the results of the tournament are forgotten. “I got a little teary because I lost the match and I know the hard times he was going through. The crowd went wild and I heard a couple of people say after I did it – that was pretty classy – but I just did it straight from the heart.”