Barry Switzer: Overcoming Personal Trauma

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Video by Ilea Shutler. Produced by David Fritze.

“Conversations” is a series of video interviews with Oklahomans about subjects that relate to some of the state’s larger issues. The 2016-2017 series is sponsored by the Chickasaw Nation and is made possible by a grant from the Institute for Nonprofit News.


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Barry Switzer’s growing-up years were packed with risk factors for a life of addiction and mental-health problems.

The former University of Oklahoma and Dallas Cowboys football coach grew up in poverty in rural southern Arkansas. Switzer’s father, Frank, was a charismatic “rogue,” as Switzer says, who made his living by bootlegging and spent time in prison. His mother, Mary, was isolated in their shotgun shack, enduring her husband’s drinking and wild life, and turning to pills and alcohol. She took her own life.

Despite the hardships, Switzer became a national symbol of achievement. Trauma and family disorders did not derail him. In this interview, Switzer, who turns 79 in October, reflects on those early experiences and why perhaps, outside of talent, he beat the odds.

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