Longshot: Payback

Longshot: Payback

In 2019, U.S. women’s national soccer team striker Jessica McDonald capped a World Cup journey few could have imagined. A teen runaway who became a single mom, McDonald tells The Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer for the first time how she rose from a broken home in Phoenix to the pinnacle of sports in Lyon, France — and how today, she’s using her voice to battle systemic inequalities in soccer, including as part of the U.S. women’s national team’s recent settlement in their landmark fight for equal pay. Hosted by Alex Andrejev.


January 6, 2021 1 min

From The Herald in Rock Hill, S.C., McClatchy Studios and iHeartRadio comes an investigation into the life and mysterious death of the only Super Bowl champion from Lancaster, S.C. At one time, Jim Duncan was a star on the rise for the Baltimore Colts; the NFL’s leading kickoff returner in 1970; and a hero of that year’s title game. Then, two years later, authorities say Duncan, who was Black, died of a self-inflicted g...

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Jim Duncan was one of eight children, growing up in a shotgun house on the poorest side of a small South Carolina milltown. There in Lancaster, the public facilities were segregated—but one of the few spots Blacks and whites both called home was the lone football field in town, shared by the Black and white high schools. There, Duncan began carving a path out of poverty for himself, and his family.

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February 2, 2021 26 mins

Jim Duncan's rare athleticism made him a star on the Maryland State College football team, where he played offense, defense and special teams. In 1968, he was a fourth-round draft pick by the Baltimore Colts, and soon became the leading kickoff return man in the NFL, enjoying a level of celebrity and status that friends and family back in Lancaster could hardly imagine.

New episodes coming each Tuesday, through March 16.

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February 9, 2021 23 mins

Following his Super Bowl win, Jim Duncan fell in love with a woman he met in South Carolina. But financial obligations soon sapped his joy for the game, and those who knew Jim say his personality began changing in unsettling ways. They speculate that for a rising star playing arguably the most dangerous position on the football field, head injuries might have begun to take their toll on Jim.

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February 16, 2021 29 mins

After a series of injuries and bizarre behavior, Jim Duncan's last chance to catch on with a new NFL team fell short. By the fall of 1972, he was back in Lancaster; his career was over, his marriage wasn't much better off, and he was running out of money. On the morning of Oct. 20, 1972, Duncan left his family's house and drove downtown. It was the last time his loved ones saw him alive.

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February 23, 2021 33 mins

According to officials, Jim Duncan walked into the Lancaster Police Station on Oct. 20, 1972, and crossed the lobby in just a few steps. Without saying a word, authorities allege, he ripped the revolver from the holster on an unsuspecting officer's hip, stepped back, and shot himself in the head. But what sort of investigation was done after the fact? What sort of investigation could have been done — and should have been done?


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March 2, 2021 27 mins

Following Jim Duncan's death, the Lancaster County coroner called an inquest to determine what happened inside the police station. Seven witnesses were called to testify under oath; all worked at, or with, the Lancaster police department. After a short deliberation, the small jury concluded that Duncan died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. But the one Black member of the inquest panel didn't believe what became the official acc...

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March 9, 2021 28 mins

In the weeks following Jim Duncan's death, conspiracy theories proliferated throughout the Black community in Lancaster. Was his death really about drugs? A woman? His skin color? Many other proposed versions of events seemed equally as implausible as the official narrative—but one scandalous theory came up time and time again, and it was one we could investigate.

New episodes coming each Tuesday, through March 16.

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March 16, 2021 33 mins

For some, including some of Jim Duncan's friends, the past is better left in the past. But for others, there will never be closure with so many open questions; and the chance to find answers is worth the pain of asking one last time. Late in our reporting, we learned that a legal team in New York could begin an independent investigation of this case, in the search for even more answers.

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March 23, 2021 31 mins

Seth Stoughton, whom listeners heard in the podcast, was a police officer before becoming a lawyer. Today, he teaches at the University of South Carolina School of Law, and is an expert in the evolution of policing tactics throughout American history. In this extended interview, Stoughton talks about lessons today's officers can learn from a case like Jim Duncan's, and the vital role of trust in the police-community relationship.

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March 23, 2021 20 mins

Paula Johnson, whom listeners heard in the podcast, is a professor at the Syracuse University College of Law, and co-director of the Cold Case Justice Initiative (CCJI). Her team at CCJI could soon begin investigating Jim Duncan's death from a legal perspective. In this extended interview, Johnson talks about how her team of student-volunteers approaches Civil Rights-era investigations, what could come next in Jim's case, and that ...

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March 8, 2022 2 mins

From The Charlotte Observer, Raleigh News & Observer, McClatchy Studios and iHeartRadio comes the remarkable journey of Jessica McDonald, a striker on the 2019 World Cup-champion U.S. Women's National Team who might not be a household name, but whose story you’ll never forget. A teen runaway who became a single mom, McDonald reveals for the first time how she rose from a broken home in Phoenix to the pinnacle of sports in...

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March 15, 2022 34 mins

The 2019 World Cup-champion U.S. Women’s National Team was arguably the most dominant team ever fielded by the most dominant institution in soccer. But striker Jessica McDonald remembers that for many people, what that team represented off the field was more important than what it accomplished on it, as fans around the world rallied behind the players’ public battle for equal pay. Legends of the women's game — inc...

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March 22, 2022 26 mins

A child of a broken home, McDonald finds her calling — and her refuge — on the playing field. She grows up competing against her brother, cousins and other boys in the neighborhood, and no matter what the sport — basketball, volleyball, football, track — as the child of two talented athletes, McDonald can do it all. But she now shares for the first time how deceiving appearances could be: McDonald’s ea...

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March 29, 2022 29 mins

Throughout Jessica McDonald's tumultous childhood, there was one person she could always turn to: her grandmother Abbie, who becomes McDonald's biggest cheerleader. McDonald becomes a superstar for multiple Cactus High School sports teams, but the Sereno Soccer Club she plays for after school is where she truly stands out. And as McDonald leads Sereno to multiple state titles, she catches the eye of legendary University of North Ca...

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April 5, 2022 34 mins

Following the fateful encounter with her mother, Jessica McDonald runs away from home. Soon, her grades flounder, leaving her ineligible for Division I athletics at all. McDonald's road to Chapel Hill detours through a nearby junior college in Phoenix, where she improves her GPA — and rewrites the juco record books as the most decorated female athlete in Phoenix College history. Then, upon becoming Division I eligible in 2008...

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April 12, 2022 31 mins

In 2010, Jessica McDonald is drafted by the Chicago Red Stars of WPS, the women’s professional soccer league. The WPS acts as a feeder system for the larger U.S. national team, and McDonald is poised to become the fresh blood the USWNT needs. But in her first pro start, McDonald tears the patellar tendon in her left knee. The best-case prognosis: an 18-month-long recovery. Worst-case? Her soccer career is over. Then, dur...

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April 19, 2022 39 mins

Content warning: This episode contains adult language and adult themes, including sexual coercion and emotional abuse. If you or anyone you know is facing these issues, help is available through RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. Visit RAINN.org, or call their hotline: 800-656-HOPE.

In 2013, Jessica McDonald makes it to the National Women’s Soccer League, the most recent iteration of an American w...

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April 21, 2022 20 mins

Content warning: This episode contains adult language and adult themes, including sexual coercion and emotional abuse. If you or anyone you know is facing these issues, help is available through RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. Visit RAINN.org, or call their hotline: 800-656-HOPE.

As listeners heard in Part 6 of Payback, the women’s sports world has been shaken in recent years by repeated allega...

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April 26, 2022 29 mins

After her first minutes with the U.S. Women’s National Team, Jessica McDonald returns to the NWSL, and is once again on the move. This time, it’s her entire team, as the Western New York Flash become the North Carolina Courage. McDonald is only paid roughly $13,000 per season; but she flourishes back in the Triangle, where she’d once attended college, thanks to a chance encounter with a local family, which turns i...

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