Andre Gray hoping to set positive example of how people can change
Andre Gray accepts he may forever be tarnished by the homophobic tweets he sent five years ago, but the Burnley striker hopes he can now be considered an example of how people can change.
The 25-year-old's world was turned upside down back in August as just hours after scoring his first Premier League goal against Liverpool, historic homophobic tweets he sent while still a non-league player back in 2012 resurfaced.
Gray was handed a four-game suspension from the Football Association and ordered to attend a mandatory education course before returning to the Clarets fold and scoring four times in the final two fixtures of 2016.
It was quite a year for Gray, who won the Championship Player of the Year as Burnley went up and started dating Little Mix singer Leigh-Anne Pinnock, but the re-emergence of his previous tweets will be the act some will always remember him by.
"I'm sure people who have met me in the last two or three years will know who I really am; a lot of people have defended me because they know I am not that kind of person," he said.
"(But) It's going to be out there for the rest of my life now and I've got to live with that."
While Gray may not be able to escape his past in some respects, the fact he has emerged from his tough upbringing in Wolverhampton to become a Premier League footballer is one he wants to embrace.
"I am a role model now to young people, they see what I am now," he said.
"People look up to me now I'm playing for Burnley, and to see (the tweets) and the way it was portrayed was obviously difficult, especially when you want to explain that it was a long time ago.
"Where I am from certain things were not exposed to me. Thankfully football set me free from those kind of things. You meet people and you see other sides of life, the way people live differently. It opens your eyes in terms of sexuality and religion and everything. You realise that everyone is the same at the end of the day."
The Clarets forward is always honest about his background, crediting his mum with raising him, though "she can't teach a son man things", and admitting that the stabbing which has scarred his face was the "biggest wake-up call" in terms of where he was heading back at Hinckley United in 2010.
They are experiences which give him a unique perspective among his Premier League peers and Gray is keen to offer advice to others who are currently going through what he did as a kid in the midlands.
"I had people talking to me when I was 13, 14, and when you're in the situation you're in you don't want to listen," he noted.
"It is hard to get through to people, and sometimes you have to learn the hard way - and I had to. But (youth schemes) are something I enjoy doing and I'm open to do more.
"It is difficult when people are trapped in their own little world and I was lucky to have football to set me free from it, and expose me to all sorts of positive things."
His learning process has continued and the compulsory FA education course which he was required to go on as part of his punishment also gave Gray a broader outlook.
"I felt I could open up about things and get my point across," he said.
"Sometimes it's difficult to word it at times, especially when you are put on the spot, but it was good to hear their point of view on discrimination. They were very understanding and it helped me a lot to understand where people come from."
Gray's wish is that people will now understand where he has come from, and what he has become.