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Washington’s Natasha Cloud sitting out WNBA season to focus on social justice reform

A pair of Washington Mystics stars are planning to skip the WNBA season when it kicks off next month in Florida.

Both Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders have opted out of the season, coach Mike Thibault announced on Monday afternoon, making them the second and third players, respectively, in the league to do so.

Connecticut Sun star Jonquel Jones announced her decision to sit out on Monday morning, citing concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Two NBA players, Davis Bertans and Trevor Ariza, became the first in the league to sit out of their restart, however neither due to coronavirus-related reasons.

WNBA players have until Thursday to opt out of the season. If they choose to sit out, players will not receive the remainder of their 2020 paychecks — unless they are deemed to be medically high risk. 

‘Until Black lives matter, all lives can’t matter’

Cloud announced her decision on Instagram on Monday, saying she’s going to sit out to focus on raising awareness of social justice issues and racial equality in the United States — something several players both in the NBA and WNBA have considered doing.

“This has been one of the toughest decisions of my career. But, I will be foregoing the 2020 WNBA season,” Cloud wrote. “There’s a lot of factors that led to this decision, but the biggest being 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 on the front lines for social reform, because until Black lives matter, all lives can't matter.”

Cloud averaged a career-high nine points and 5.6 assists for the Mystics last season, her fifth with the team, while leading them to a WNBA title. She is also Washington’s all-time assists leader with 617.

Players from both leagues have considered sitting out of their respective seasons due to the Black Lives Matter movement — something Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving has led — as they don’t want basketball to deter from the progress the movement has made so far.

“We respect and support Natasha’s decision to prioritize her life and goals,” Thibault 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 out for health reasons

While she didn’t specifically cite the coronavirus pandemic, Sanders decided to opt out of the season due to health reasons.

“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,” she 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.”

There were more than 2.3 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States as of Monday afternoon, according to The New York Times, and more than 120,000 deaths attributed to it. Florida surpassed the 100,000-case mark on Monday, too, and has seen cases spiking severely in recent days — something NBA commissioner Adam Silver is reportedly concerned about

The NBA is planning to restart its season in Orlando, while the WNBA will play a shortened season near Tampa.

Sanders averaged 6.1 points and 5.5 rebounds for the Mystics last season, her fourth with the team. 

“We understand and respect LaToya’s decision and will miss her both on and off the court as we head towards the upcoming season,” Thibault said in a statement. “She has been a big part of our success over the last several years and we look forward to her continuing to contribute for us in 2021.”

Natasha Cloud of the Washington Mystics speaks to demonstrators before marching down the streets of D.C. to the MLK Memorial during a Black Lives Matter march on June 19, 2020 in Washington D.C. (Getty Images)

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