Ole Miss super fan Ben Mintz opens up about his journey to Barstool Sports, life in New York City and predictions for the Rebels’ 2021 football season.
Written by Emily Welly | Illustrated by Abbey Edmonson
In the past 18 months, Ben Mintz has catapulted himself and his beloved Ole Miss into the national sports talk media scene. Mintz, otherwise known as Mintzy or Bayou Ben, is a Barstool Sports personality.
Barstool is a digital media empire with blogs, videos and podcasts hosted by people with larger-than-life personalities, like Mintz. The company is a content-producing machine, devoted primarily to sports but also to everyday topics ranging from online gambling to pizza reviews.
Mintz is known for his exceedingly positive energy and excited personality. His social media segments, punctuated by his trademark “’Sup fellas!” opening line, along with his regular back-and-forth with rival Brandon Walker (Barstool’s Mississippi State super fan) have made him famous, at least among Barstool Sports fans, and especially among those who share his love for the Rebels. His Twitter following alone is more than 53,000.
“Everybody thinks it’s nuts,” Mintz said. “I’m so thankful and grateful. It’s a very, very big honor to represent Ole Miss and Oxford nationally.”
Perhaps the best part of Mintz’s story is that his Barstool break happened pretty much overnight. He was working in radio for ESPN Baton Rouge when a buddy tweeted video of Mintz cheering the “Hotty Toddy” after the Rebels’ one-point overtime win over Kentucky on Oct. 3, 2020.
The video went viral, and the next morning, Mintz’s phone and his Twitter feed exploded. Then he received a call that would change the course of his career. Dave Portnoy, the famous founder of Barstool Sports, started following him on Twitter and then called him, telling Mintz he wanted him to come work for Barstool in New York City. When they connected on the phone, Portnoy told him: “Your voice sounds exactly how I hoped it would.”
The Back Story
Mintz, 38, is originally from Monroe, Louisiana, but also spent a lot of his childhood at his family’s farm in Lake Washington in the Mississippi Delta. Born to an LSU-loving father and a mother who is a proud Ole Miss law school alum, it was up to Mintz to choose a team.
“When I graduated high school, I still didn’t know where I was going,” he said. He eventually decided on Ole Miss, mostly because he felt like “everyone else from Monroe” was headed to LSU.
He arrived on campus in the fall of 2001, pledged a fraternity (ATO) and lived in Stockard Hall before moving into the ATO house. He was a finance major.
College fraternity life also introduced him to the game of poker. “Pretty quickly I cared a lot more about that than I did about school,” he said. He started playing in Tunica and online. In April 2006, he won $10,000 in an online poker tournament.
“That seemed like a million dollars,” he said, adding that his mom wasn’t quite as happy as he was about the win or with his decision to leave school and eventually move to New Orleans in 2009.
He stayed in New Orleans for five years, continuing to play poker. “I did really well,” he said, which is an understatement. In 2011, he played in the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas, which was broadcast on ESPN. He placed 75th out of 7,000 players and scored his biggest win: $90,000.
But playing hard in New Orleans began to take a toll, and in May 2014, when close friend Elliott Willard, who Oxford locals know from the City Grocery bar, suggested he move back Oxford and finish up his degree, Mintz agreed. He moved back to Oxford, started taking classes and got a part-time restaurant job. “I went from 75th in world poker to making salads at Proud Larry’s,” he joked. A year later, he graduated with “2.0000” GPA.
A few months later, a friend in the radio business began recruiting Mintz to come back to Louisiana and join him on sports radio. Mintz didn’t have radio experience, but he did have a magnetic personality and a love for talking sports.
After a slow start (“my show was horrible, (but) they gave me a long leash,” he said), his three-hour long drive-time show, called “Mixin’ It Up With Mintz,” began to gain popularity and listeners. He was on the air from December 2015 until March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic led to the small station letting go of much of its staff, including Mintz.
Later that month, while Mintz was at an Ole Miss vs. UL Monroe baseball game — in his hometown of Monroe — he got a call and was offered a job at ESPN Baton Rouge.
“The next day the world shut down, and the job offer disappeared,” he said. “But I thought, let’s sit back and see what happens.”
Rather than wait out the pandemic in Monroe, he moved back to Oxford, for the third time. This time, he decided to change more than where he lived. He stopped drinking, and began running and doing yoga with Lydia Siniard of Oxford Academy of Dance Arts.
“No better time than now,” he said. “Why not work on this when nothing’s going on? Six weeks in, I felt like a new human being.”
In the midst of his personal transformation, the job at ESPN Baton Rouge worked out, and a few months later he got the call from Portnoy, packed his bags and moved north.
New York, New York
Before starting with Barstool, Mintz had been to New York City once, when he spent a night there for a Widespread Panic show in 2011.
Now he lives in a tiny space in Hell’s Kitchen on the west side of Manhattan and works around the corner from Madison Square Garden.
Relocating to New York while COVID restrictions were still in place was maybe not the easiest way to discover the city. Mintz ticked off his first impressions:
“It was a pretty damn cold winter.”
“I’m really excited for live music.”
“The food scene’s insane.”
In April 2021, Mintz spent a couple of weeks back in Mississippi covering Ole Miss and SEC sports for Barstool. His trip included the Ole Miss vs. LSU baseball series and the Grove Bowl.
“The reception I got in Oxford was the craziest thing I’d ever seen in my life,” he said.
In June, he spent two weeks in Omaha covering the College World Series for Barstool. Ole Miss had ended its season a game shy of making it to World Series, and while in Omaha, Mintz made some terrible picks about who he expected to win the series, which he was very publicly called out for, especially by Portnoy.
“I got crushed in my picks and saw my arch rival (Mississippi State) win the national championship,” he said, adding that the circumstances could have made it a pretty terrible experience, but he focused on his goals to grow the game of college baseball and the business of Barstool Sports.
“We want people to care and be entertained,” he said, adding that when Portnoy complimented him after the trip, he knew he was doing something right.
In addition to his sports-related Barstool work, Mintz is part of Barstool’s “Cracking Aces” poker podcast. Although he doesn’t have quite as much time as he once did for the game, he does still play poker and said he plans to play in November in the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas, set to air on CBS Sports.
So, what does Mintz expect from Rebel football this season?
He’s still a big Lane Kiffin fan, and he thinks quarterback Matt Corral has a good shot at the Heisman Trophy. But he’s also got his eyes on offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby. “I think he’s one of the rising stars in college football,” Mintz said. “We’ve got a gold mine in him.”
He thinks Kiffin’s “elite, uptempo offense” will continue to take steps forward, and he’s optimistic the defense will improve from last year. He expects those improvements to result in an 8-4, maybe even 9-3, season for the Rebels.
But, he added a caveat: “We don’t have much depth, so a big injury would be tough on us.”
Whatever happens on the field, Mintz is excited about the atmosphere around Oxford and on campus, and he credits Kiffin for rebuilding the buzz and the brand around Ole Miss football. And especially coming out of last year’s less-than-normal season, he thinks a winning football team this fall would be a huge boost to the local economy and even university enrollment.
Mintz is hopeful Barstool will send him to Oxford during football season, perhaps for the LSU game on Oct. 23. If he’s in town, expect to see him in the Grove promoting Ole Miss and SEC football for Barstool but also to spend at least a little quality time with his Oxford buddies.
“I love all the attention, but they treat me the same,” he said. “I’ve had a really crazy journey.”