When it comes to making money on the multi-billion-dollar college football industry, Kiese Laymon doesn’t consider himself guiltless.

Laymon, a writer and English professor at the University of Mississippi, notes the pretty good-sized chunk of change he received for writing about his home state, racism and college football for ESPN Magazine in fall 2015. So whether it’s the state’s largest public university, boosters, podcasters or cultural workers like himself, Laymon says it’s important to recognize all the “carnivorous ways we dig in” and benefit from student athletes who, as of now, cannot yet profit from their own labor.

Here are a few excerpts from our conversation with Laymon, a Jackson, Miss., native and award-wining author about supporting students and student workers during the coronavirus pandemic, a sputtering economy and moments of national and local racial reckoning.

Listen to the whole conversation, including a conversation with AL.com’s John Talty here.

And go ahead and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Acast or wherever else you get your podcasts to stay informed about the South this election season.

Kiese Laymon on teaching in a college town during a pandemic 

I’ll start with what makes me happy. One of my experiences is watching these young people organize and push back against things that they experience, even things their parents, great grandparents (experienced).When you watch young people try to change an institution and a town you can’t help but feel inspired. 

Kiese Laymon on pressures facing student athletes 

They’re carrying a heavy burden. I can’t speak for all of them, and I don’t want to do that. But the student workers — athletes — that I talked to feel that they have an obligation to play. These are kids who’ve been playing their whole lives — an obligation to play, but they also feel like there’s no obligation to protest. And it’s hard having these conversations with young people in a way. Because… it’s not my business if you don’t want to advocate for yourself to be paid. 

Flipside, there are some members of Ole Miss’ football team, who are extremely valued, who are not just talking about protesting racial violence and protesting to get the Confederate monument down, but who really just are really on the verge of protesting to be paid fair compensation. And so I’m not saying everybody is aware, and everybody wants that, but I know some players on their team definitely want that. 

Kiese Laymon on the Mississippi State college football player who refused to play unless Mississippi changed its racist state flag 

That’s the thing about living in Mississippi — we believe in a lot of myths. I will say that brother (Kylin Hill) inspired me, pushed me not just in my writing but in terms of cowardice, to confront cowardice because I think it was really hard to do what he did. We have to understand that this system that upheld that Confederate flag within the Mississippi flag couldn’t be broken by one person. We don’t need that. 

The SEC saying they were going to take their money out of Mississippi, the NCAA essentially saying they were going to take their money out of Mississippi and the student protests led by organized groups and individuals, like the young brother from Mississippi State are what made this happen. 

There was already all these other organized movements against the flag, that behind the scenes were working to get all these other entities to strip power and money from the state. And I’m saying that brother is a part of a larger movement. And I just don’t think we do him a justice when we try to make him seem like a singular figure. I think what’s dope about him is he was part of a larger movement.

To hear from AL.com’s John Talty about how SEC schools are handling the Covid-19 pandemic, more on the role of Mississippi players in changing the state flag and more, listen to the full episode here.