Washington Mystics center Tina Charles announced Friday that she has been granted a medical exemption for extrinsic asthma and won't play in the WNBA season. The exemption was granted by an independent medical panel agreed upon by the WNBA and the players' union.
In receiving an exemption, Charles will be paid her full salary for this season. This would have been her first season with Washington after she was acquired via trade from New York on April 15. This is the first WNBA season Charles will miss since she was drafted No. 1 out of UConn by the Connecticut Sun in 2010.
Another player for the Mystics, 2019 WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne, applied for a medical exemption because of the effects of Lyme disease but was denied. Delle Donne is still not expected to play this season, though she has yet to make an official announcement. Washington agreed to pay the two-time MVP's salary even if she doesn't play.
The Mystics have two players from last year's championship team who opted not to play this season: guard Natasha Cloud and post player LaToya Sanders. Cloud said she preferred to focus on social justice issues, and Sanders said she thought it was best for her health and family. By opting out, they will not be paid for the rest of this season, though they received their initial checks in June before the season was officially announced.
Charles wrote a story for The Players' Tribune on Friday in which she detailed her diagnosis of extrinsic asthma five years ago after playing in China.
"I hadn't considered the air quality and smog issues that are prevalent in parts of China," Charles wrote in The Players' Tribune story. "I didn't fully realize the impact it can have on your respiratory system until one night in January 2016."
Charles described not being able to breathe shortly after the start of a game and needing to go to the bench for oxygen. She wrote that her breathing came back, but when she returned to New York, she was diagnosed and told that extrinsic asthma causes the immune system to "react to a viral infection or any allergen and overproduce an antibody that causes airway inflammation."
"While we are disappointed Tina will not be with us this summer, we fully understand the reason for her medical exemption and look forward to having her with us next season," Mystics head coach and general manager Mike Thibault said in a statement. "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 WNBA will begin a 22-game regular season on July 25 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
Charles, the 2012 WNBA MVP, was dealt to Washington from New York in a three-team deal that also involved Dallas. Charles played on two undefeated NCAA championship teams at UConn (2009, '10). She started her WNBA career in Connecticut, playing four seasons with the Sun, and was traded before the 2014 season to New York. She spent the past six seasons in her hometown with the Liberty.
Charles, 31, has averaged 18.1 points in her WNBA career and was signed to a one-year deal for $175,000 by the Liberty before she was traded to Washington.
In The Players' Tribune story, Charles also wrote about her concerns about racial injustice and her commitment to change.
"As a way of helping to honor and remember George Floyd and all the others who were taken too soon, I will immediately be making countless $846 donations to different Black-owned businesses and organizations," Charles wrote. "That number, which ties back to the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that George Floyd was brutalized, is significant. And my hope is that these donations will help serve as a reminder of the injustice that occurred."