By Annie Rhoades
Many Ole Miss fans have carried a long-standing affinity for the New Orleans Saints for years, often due in part to Ole Miss’ very own Archie Manning (BPA 71), who served as the Saints quarterback from 1971-1982. But for alumni Ben Hales (BA 96) and Matthew Sharpe (BA 07, JD 10), a love for their hometown NFL team has turned into a career.
Hales began his career with the Saints in 2000 as a corporate sales account executive. Having steadily climbed the organization’s ranks, he now serves as senior vice president of marketing and business development.
“There’s been a new challenge almost every single year, so it just never gets old,” said Hales. “There’s always something different happening here.”
A New Orleans native, Hales became a Saints fan at an early age but Oxford and Ole Miss didn’t enter the picture until it was time to choose a college.
After graduating from Country Day High School in 1992, Hales originally had his sights set on attending college at the University of Georgia, but a weekend visit to Oxford quickly changed his mind.
“I went up just for fun one weekend with a bunch of friends and that’s pretty much all it took to change my mind on the spot,” said Hales.
While he was an English major, Hales soon realized he also had a keen interest in marketing.
“English included the courses that I liked the most,” said Hales. “Writing in particular was something I really enjoyed doing, and a lot of those things are what you do in marketing. You’re telling a story and communicating what a vision and brand are.”
Hales knew he wanted to get back to New Orleans after graduating, so he accepted a position working for a business publication in the Big Easy and later a job in television advertising with the local ABC affiliate. However, when a sales position with the Saints opened up, Hales jumped at the opportunity.
“I sent a resume in never really thinking I’d hear anything and actually got a call back,” said Hales. “The organization was going through a lot of changes and there were good opportunities to grow. I had always wanted to do something like this in sports so I took the chance and gave it a shot.”
Fellow alum and Saints employee Matthew Sharpe was just as eager to return to his hometown to begin his career.
After graduating from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 2010, Sharpe took both the Mississippi and Louisiana state bar exams.
“I returned home and studied for the Louisiana bar exam and took it as early as I could,” recalled Sharpe. “I was hired by a firm in Jackson that practices workers compensation. They put me in an office in New Orleans where I practiced for just under two years from 2011 until I started with the Saints in April 2013.”
Sharpe serves as workers’ compensation and compliance coordinator for the Saints and couldn’t be happier with his new position.
“Probably my favorite thing is there’s never a dull moment,” said Sharpe. “There’s always something interesting going on and somebody intrigued by every little thing that goes on here whether it’s the public, the media, players, staff — everything has a unique interest and that’s really fun.”
Sharpe made the decision to attend Ole Miss during his senior year of high school after a trip over Labor Day weekend.
“I just fell in love with the place,” said Sharpe. “I was intrigued by it from the minute I set foot on campus and decided I wanted to do something a little bit different. Excuse the pun but, I wanted to be a rebel, so I chose Ole Miss.”
While Sharpe was interested in photography and journalism during his undergraduate studies, he always felt compelled to pursue a law degree.
“Law school was always in the back of my mind,” said Sharpe. “The opportunity presented itself and I ended up in workers comp, which led me to this spot.”
While both Hales and Sharpe are proud New Orleaneans, they are just as proud to be Ole Miss Rebels.
Fourteen years and one super bowl win later, Hales fondly looks back on the time he spent at Ole Miss.
“Going to the Grove is certainly way up there on my list,” said Hales. “The one thing I found that was different from other schools is, even if you knew the team probably wasn’t going to be as good as it was the year before, the entire football season experience never really changed. It was always the same great traditions and enthusiasm.”
An active member of the New Orleans Ole Miss Club, Sharpe doesn’t let a football season go by without attending at least one Rebel game.
“I love living in New Orleans and it’s good to be home, but I certainly enjoyed my time in Oxford.”
Both Hales and Sharpe look forward to continuing their careers with the Saints and finishing the work they have begun.
Ben Hales and Matthew Sharpe are Members of the Ole Miss Alumni Association.
Ole Miss thanks you.