EXCLUSIVE: The mysterious death of former NFL player Jim Duncan is the subject of a new narrative podcast series from publishing company McClatchy and iHeartMedia.
The two companies are launching Return Man, eight-part documentary series that is to be the first in an anthology of character-driven audio series, titled Longshot, that focus on the intersection of sports and social change.
The first episode will launch on Tuesday January 26 and you can listen to the trailer below.
Duncan was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1968, nearly two decades before the team moved to Indianapolis. According to the official account of his death, he entered the Lancaster, S.C., police station on the morning of October 20, 1972. Police said the 26-year-old Duncan walked up behind a lieutenant, and without saying a word ripped the officer’s revolver from his holster, stepped back, and shot himself in the head. For half a century, his family and an entire community have searched for answers.
Return Man is based on the reporting of Bret McCormick, former sports editor for McClatchy’s Rock Hill, S.C. news outlet, The Herald. In addition to the podcast, The Herald has created a seven-part written series and short documentary video about the case.
McCormick, who also narrates all eight half-hour episodes, spent more than three years interviewing Duncan’s friends and teammates, his family and widow, experts in the history of policing, the lone surviving witness to Duncan’s death and the family of the officer involved — answering questions that have lingered for nearly 50 years, and connecting the shadows of the past to ongoing current events.
“Even though he died nearly 50 years ago, Duncan’s death and the events that followed remain relevant in light of current events,” said McCormick. “Officials seemed to wall off any hope of finding out exactly what happened on that day. And for decades, the remarkable life and perplexing death of Lancaster’s only Super Bowl champion has been almost completely erased from the town’s history.”
“The depth of reporting presented in Return Man is what makes this podcast and Longshot series so powerful,” said Kristin Roberts, McClatchy’s Senior Vice President, News. “The listener hears directly from Mr. Duncan’s family, his coaches and his neighbors. We hear their voices tell the stories of his life. And through them, we take a journey that grapples with the great unanswered questions surrounding the death of a man who was both local hero and a national athlete. We look forward to working with iHeartMedia to bring this important local story to listeners nationwide.”
“This is an exciting collaboration with one of the country’s premier local media companies that has a rich history of outstanding narrative journalism,” added Conal Byrne, President of the iHeartPodcast Network. “This is one of the things that podcasting does best: longform storytelling around layered, complex subject matters that may have fallen off our collective radar. We are so excited to collaborate with McClatchy to bring Return Man and the Longshot anthology to podcast listeners across the country.”