The mother of Nunavut-raised hockey star Jordin Tootoo says she hopes her son's decision to seek treatment for his alcohol abuse will encourage other northerners dealing with substance abuse to get help.
Rose Tootoo said she is pleased to see her son, a 27-year-old forward with the National Hockey League's Nashville Predators, stepping up to deal with his heavy drinking problem.
"If you're a role model, regardless, absolutely no human being is perfect," the elder Tootoo told CBC News from the family's home community of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.
"Everybody makes mistakes. So if you think you have a problem, don't be afraid, like I say. Go out and get help."
Jordin Tootoo became the first Inuk hockey player to play in the NHL when he made his debut with the Predators in October 2003.
This month, Tootoo voluntarily entered an in-patient care program through the NHL's substance abuse and behavioural health program, which is jointly run with the league's players union.
He will be paid his full salary while in care, and he will be monitored by doctors from both the NHL and the NHLPA, the league said in a statement Monday.
Grieving brother's death
The NHL says Tootoo will face no penalty as long as he complies with his treatment and the followup care program.
Rose Tootoo said she believes Jordin turned to alcohol to deal with unresolved pain related to the suicide of his older brother Terence eight years ago.
Terence Tootoo, a 22-year-old minor hockey player, was found dead near Brandon, Man., in August 2002. He had shot himself shortly after he was charged with impaired driving.
"It's been eight long years … not being able to talk about it and dealing with it," Rose Tootoo said. "It definitely took a toll on him, I think."
"He's got so much to deal with — the limelight, you know, and the hockey, and being a role model and whatnot…. But he's quite a strong person, so here's hoping and praying that, you know, this program will help him deal with the situation."
Role model in Nunavut
Rose Tootoo said Jordin has been a role model in Nunavut since his NHL hockey career began, so his decision to seek treatment could encourage others with drug or alcohol problems to do the same.
"Please, if you need help, go out and get it," she said. "There's plenty, plenty of places to go to get help; [there's] nothing to be ashamed of."
It is not known when Tootoo will return to the ice for the Nashville Predators. The team said Tootoo's teammates, coaches and management all support him.
Rose Tootoo said her family is also supporting Jordin, adding that she is confident he will play hockey again when he feels ready.
"I'm not worried at all. I'm so happy that he's decided to do what he's done, and on his own," she said. "We're extremely proud of him … everybody's telling us he's an inspiration."