Mike Cranston, The Sportswriter Who Had It All
He had a great job, great condo, and a great girl. He also had demons. And when he laid them bare in a blog post that went viral and shocked his friends and family, it was the start of his comeback
Last July, Mike Cranston stood on the other side of a forty-third-floor balcony at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, ready to end his life. Finally, he would stop the pain that permeated his every day and caused him to quit his job, ruin a five-year relationship with his girlfriend, and shut out the outside world.
But something told him not to jump.
Six months later, Cranston sat in the bedroom of his uptown condominium with a loaded .357 Magnum to his head. All he had to do was pull the trigger to permanently stop the suicidal thoughts that first began at the age of sixteen.
But something told him to put down the gun.
As the former local Associated Press sportswriter reflects on his two near-suicide attempts, Cranston still is unable to explain why he didn’t follow through on either occasion. What he does know is that for the first time in his thirty-nine years, he’s finally ready to give life a chance.
On a warmer-than-usual April evening, Cranston walks into Stool Pigeons, located a short distance from his condo. Two servers and a bartender warmly greet him. That’s not surprising, as Cranston has spent hundreds of hours in the uptown restaurant, sometimes drinking up to twenty-four beers and several shots in an eight-hour sitting. He wouldn’t eat until late in order to keep his buzz going as long as possible.
“This,” says Cranston, now sober (and drinking a soda), “is where my self-destruction started every night.”
It’s the first time Cranston has visited Stool Pigeons since checking himself into a behavioral health facility on Randolph Road in January. Sliding into a booth, he’s in good physical shape thanks to a renewed love of running, which has helped in his battle with alcoholism. But it’s also clear that stress and inner demons have taken a toll. He’s balding (and what little hair left is gray) and seems nervous at times, fidgeting with his straw and often looking out the window when speaking. Alcohol always helped serve as a masking agent for Cranston, who suffers from social anxiety and describes himself at an early age as “an odd kid.”
“For my fourth birthday, I asked for a watch,” he says. “I never had a ton of friends.”
“Mike struggled a bit [growing up], not because he acted random or strange, but because he was uncomfortable,” says Beth Sinkus, Cranston’s younger sister, who lives in Pennsylvania. “He didn’t like making friends, or really hanging out. If he ever went anywhere, he would always drag me along.”
During his high school sophomore year, Cranston’s dark thoughts began to spin uncontrollably, to the point where he began contemplating suicide.
“It was really hard to control my emotions and take everything in,” he says. “It was more of an anger thing; I felt slighted if something happened to me. If I felt that something was unfair, it was almost as if I couldn’t function. It would take over me.”
While attending Syracuse University, Cranston began drinking on a regular basis in order to help him get through social interactions. Upon graduating in 1995, he worked in radio for a couple years in his home state of Massachusetts before moving to Charlotte, where he took a job in radio giving sports updates, and was also the play-by-play announcer for Winthrop basketball. By 2000, Cranston began freelancing for the Associated Press, covering the Panthers, Hornets, ACC schools, and other teams in the region.
In 2006, Cranston was hired as the full-time area beat writer for the AP. He had a gig most could only dream of, getting paid to go to games and write about them while interviewing some of the biggest superstars in sports. It was also around that time when he bought his place uptown and began dating a woman he calls “the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”
On the outside, Cranston had what looked to be a good life: a job many would covet, a great girlfriend, and a new home at the stylish Fifth and Poplar condominiums in uptown. Internally, though, Cranston’s suicidal thoughts grew, and the alcohol abuse was getting worse.
“I had everything I could ever want but could barely get through the day,” he says. “In any social situation non-work related, I’d always have to drink beforehand to feel like normal. It was drinks five through ten where I’d feel normal, but I’d never stop at ten. And it would lead to bad things. … Looking at it now through therapy, the only way I could get satisfaction was from doing something outrageous.”
That included cheating on his girlfriend (who works as a therapist dealing in anxiety, among other things) and getting into numerous unprovoked arguments with people, to the point where it began to affect his job.
“There was an edge of bitterness to him,” says Jenna Fryer, who worked with Cranston and primarily covers NASCAR for the AP. “Work things would bother him so quickly. He’d get so frustrated at things that are out of our control. He had a low tolerance for subpar thinking and passive-aggressiveness.”
Finally, Cranston went too far. He was waiting on a quote from an NBA agent (whom he would rather not name) for a story. After a long night at Stool Pigeons, Cranston sent the agent a number of angry text messages. It was the latest in a string of what he calls “stupid risks” involving his job.
Subconsciously, Cranston says, the incident may have been part of a master plan.
“It was almost like I wanted it to happen in some way,” he says. “I wanted to be forced into a way where I had no other choice but to kill myself. And if I didn’t have a job, I would run out of money.
“My job was so much of my identity, but I just didn’t care about the consequences. I would fire off angry e-mails to my superiors … you would never do what I did if you were in your right mind, but at times I barely thought past getting through each day.”
The agent later threatened to contact Cranston’s boss at the AP to file a complaint. Fryer got wind of the situation and told Cranston to get ahead of the incident and fix it, since he was about to be appointed to the AP’s Olympic team to cover soccer, one of his favorite sports.
His response: “OK, thanks for calling.”