The following sentence contains a link to a screenshot of a tweet that refers to violence against people on the basis of their sexual orientation. On January 9, 2012, Burnley striker Andre Gray sent this horrible tweet. It's there if you feel like you need to see it, but if you don't want to, you'll be able to understand the rest of this article anyway.
While this happened in the public domain, it didn't become widely public until August of 2016. Now, Gray is facing retroactive punishment.
At the time of the tweet, Gray was playing for Hinckley United, a Conference North side that no longer exists and was hardly known outside of Leicestershire when they existed. As a result, almost no one saw his tweet. But the particular tweet that got him in trouble, as well as numerous other homophobic tweets from 2012, resurfaced after Gray scored in the Premier League for Burnley against Liverpool.
Gray deleted that now infamous tweet and many others like it before issuing an apology. It was nothing like the apologies that famous people usually release after getting caught saying offensive things on social media. It's unequivocal, admits guilt, and states that he's working hard on becoming a better person.
Whether you accept Gray's apology or think of him as a bigot is completely up to you. His boss Sean Dyche thinks it was a completely sincere apology and has backed him up. But clearly, sincere or not, Gray issued this apology hoping that it would help him avoid some form of punishment. It did not, as the FA suspended Gray for four matches, citing their rules against abusive language that brings the game into disrepute, as well as a bigoted "aggravating factor," in this case homophobic language. He was also fined £25,000 and will have to attend an education course.
There's no doubt that if a player posted what Gray said back in 2012 on social media today, he would be punished by the FA, and there would be little debate over whether that punishment was deserved. But Gray tweeted those things four-and-a-half years, four clubs and five divisions ago, so it's fair to ask whether the FA should actually have the authority to punish Gray.
The rules that Gray is being charged under didn't exist when he posted the tweets he's being charged over. The latest tweet included in the FA's charges occurred in March of 2012, but the FA didn't make the rule he's being charged for breaking until July of 2012. Technically, he hasn't broken any FA rules, though three players were charged and accepted fines for similar offenses in 2012 before this exact rule was implemented.
On the other hand, what Gray said is so vile, and so hateful compared to everything else the FA has ever issued this charge for, that it might not matter. Is there really a statute of limitations when it comes to publicly stating your wish for violence against a specific group of people on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, race, etc.? Gray, Burnley and the players' union might get together and decide not to fight any fine or suspension despite clear grounds for doing so, either for appearance's sake or because of a genuinely guilty conscience.
There will be members of the LGBTQ community who think the FA charge is invalid, just as there will be rules sticklers who think it's time to bend them to make sure Gray is handed an adequate punishment for violent hate speech. But if Gray is sincerely sorry and wants to move past this, he's unlikely to fight the suspension.