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Mystics’ Tina Charles granted medical exemption, opts out of WNBA season because of asthma

Tina Charles, acquired in an offseason trade with the New York Liberty, won't play for the Mystics this season after opting out of the WNBA's 22-game campaign for medical reasons. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

The Washington Mystics will be without Tina Charles, the 2012 MVP and the team’s major offseason acquisition, for the duration of the 22-game season in Bradenton, Fla., after the seven-time all-star was granted a medical exemption to opt out of the 2020 campaign. Charles announced the ruling in an essay on the Players’ Tribune, explaining that she suffers from extrinsic asthma.

The 6-foot-4 center joins guard Natasha Cloud and forward-center LaToya Sanders as Mystics who have opted out. Cloud and Sanders did so to focus on social justice causes. Elena Delle Donne also applied for a medical exemption, citing Lyme disease, but was denied and has not made a decision on whether to play. Delle Donne, the reigning league MVP, is also recovering from January back surgery.

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Charles wrote that she was going back and forth over whether to play, weighing both the novel coronavirus pandemic and the charged climate of social justice in the country in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis. She was filling out a medical form and noticed she was answering “yes” to a lot of questions meant to determine whether she was at high risk of serious complications should she contract covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The team doctor agreed that she was high risk, and ultimately so did a league panel of doctors.

“My condition, called extrinsic asthma, impacts my immune system,” Charles wrote, “and would make playing during a pandemic a very risky and dangerous proposition.”

Charles, 31, explained she was diagnosed five years ago while playing in China, when she walked off the court during a game with breathing difficulty. She has since experienced “pneumonia, bronchial spasms, wheezing, and severe breathing problems that have occurred at least once a year — including a serious one when I was playing in a game against Minnesota in 2017.”

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Charles wrote that she plans to use her time away from the team to dedicate her focus to social justice causes. She specifically noted black-owned businesses, organizations that support Black Lives Matter and communities in need. Charles said she will be making “countless” $846 donations to those businesses and organizations, a symbolic amount that matches the 8 minutes 46 seconds an officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck.

“While we are disappointed that Tina will not be with us this summer,” Mystics Coach/General Manager Mike Thibault said in a statement, “we fully understand the reason for her medical exemption and look forward to having her with us next season. Again, the health of our players takes precedence. There hasn’t been anything normal about playing this season, but we are prepared and excited to play with the group that is here in Florida.”

The Mystics moved Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, their 2020 pick and all three of their 2021 picks in the trade for Charles, who will receive full pay for the final season of her three-year contract. She will be a free agent next season without having played a minute for the Mystics.