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Racism in the National Hockey League: it's OK to talk about it, says Jordin Tootoo

11/25/2014 08:00 EST | Updated 01/25/2015 05:59 EST
Jordin Tootoo is known as a challenger on the ice, but the hockey player has shared a more personal set of battles in his new book, All the Way: My Life on Ice.

The book deals with the racism he's faced as a professional hockey player, his struggles with substance abuse and losing his brother to suicide.

"At the end of the day, I think it's about understanding that it's okay to talk, and to communicate," he told The Early Edition's Rick Cluff.

Tootoo was the first Inuk player in the National Hockey League. He says last year, he brushed up against racism three times in one month.

"For professional athletes, everyone needs to understand that it doesn't matter who you are.

"It doesn't matter what nationality you are, what colour skin you have. The sport of hockey is meant to be played by everybody," he said.

Tootoo wants to see education against racism become a priority for kids, when they first start to play the sport.

In his book, Tootoo also talks about his older brother Terence's suicide, and the impact it had on him.

The 22-year-old minor hockey player, was found dead near Brandon, Man., in 2002. He had shot himself shortly after he was charged with impaired driving.

"For a number of years, I was, on a daily basis, asking myself, what could I have done differently," Tootoo told Cluff.

Tootoo says it can be difficult to talk openly about mental health and depression in a small community, where everyone knows everyone else. Last year, the suicide rate in Nunavut was 13 times higher than the national average. 

"I think the biggest issue is people not being open, and being too afraid to talk."

After his brother's death, Tootoo says he found a distraction in alcohol and women, later receiving support from the NHL Players' Association to help him through his struggles with substance abuse.

"Anytime someone is struggling, the hockey world is always there to lend a helping hand," he said.

"For addicts, it's a daily struggle. For me, it's been one day at a time, and I've been saying that for the last four years."

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