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Mystics’ Natasha Cloud, LaToya Sanders opt out of 2020 WNBA season

“This has been one of the toughest decisions of my career,” Mystics guard Natasha Cloud said. (Doug Kapustin for The Washington Post)

The Washington Mystics will be without two starters when the 2020 season finally begins: Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders opted not to play this year, the team announced Monday.

As part of its plans to hold a shortened season amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, the WNBA has a provision that allows players to opt out. Those deemed high risk can do so for health reasons and still receive full pay. Any other players who sit out will not receive their salary but will not face discipline.

Cloud announced she is taking the time to focus on social justice matters; Sanders has had medical issues in the past. Their decisions leave the Mystics, who added former MVP Tina Charles in April, without two key players as they attempt to defend their first WNBA title.

“This has been one of the toughest decisions of my career but I will be foregoing the 2020 WNBA season,” Cloud said in a statement released by the team. “There are a lot of factors that led to this decision, but the biggest one is that I am more than an athlete. I have a responsibility to myself, to my community and to my future children to fight for something that is much bigger than myself and the game of basketball. I will instead continue the fight for social reform, because until Black lives matter, all lives can’t matter.”

Cloud, who averaged 9.0 points, 5.6 assists and 2.5 rebounds last season, has become one of WNBA’s biggest activists, taking on gun violence in the District and fighting systemic racism in law enforcement. The point guard recently became the first women’s basketball player to sign a shoe deal with Converse, but she put off the announcement after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police May 25. She wrote an essay for the Players’ Tribune that challenged people to join the cause and flatly said, “If you’re silent, I don’t f--- with you, period.”

Mystics’ Natasha Cloud gets shoe deal from Converse, for her activism as much as her play

“I mean that [stuff],” Cloud told The Washington Post this month. “I mean that from the depths of my soul. If you are silent during this time, you are taking the side of the oppressor. You are telling me that my life does not matter and the countless amount of black American lives do not matter. And for that, you are dead wrong as a human being.”

Mystics Coach/General Manager Mike Thibault said the team is behind Cloud.

“We respect and support Natasha’s decision to prioritize her life and goals,” he said in a statement. “Her commitment to social justice issues is of utmost importance to her and, therefore, to the Mystics organization. We will continue to be partners with her and all of our players on their commitment to social justice reform as we go forward into this season and beyond.”

Sanders has been diagnosed with anemia, which caused her to miss time in 2018, but it was unclear whether she is considered high risk. The forward averaged 6.1 points and 5.5 rebounds last year, her fifth with the Mystics.

“This was not an easy choice to make, but after much thought and conversation I do believe it is what’s best for my health and family,” Sanders said in a statement. “I wish my teammates and the entire Mystics family the best this season and I will continue to watch and support them.”

Said Thibault: “We understand and respect LaToya’s decision and will miss her both on and off the court.”

The WNBA plans to play a 22-game season on the campus of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Teams would report in early July and be subject to a bubblelike environment to protect players and staff members from the coronavirus. A start date has not been determined, but a recent proposal to the players’ union has it set for July 24.

Earlier Monday, forward Jonquel Jones, a former Riverdale Baptist and George Washington standout who averaged 14.6 points and 9.7 rebounds last season while leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, announced she would opt out of the season as well.

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