Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne, the reigning MVP, had her request to opt out of the 2020 WNBA season because of medical reasons denied. One of the WNBA’s best players and biggest names, Delle Donne suffers from Lyme disease and is undecided on whether she’ll play.
In a statement released to ESPN, Delle Donne said that decision made by the panel of doctors, which was approved by the league and the Players Association, goes against the advice of her own personal physicians.
“The independent panel of doctors the league appointed to review high-risk cases have advised that I’m not high risk, and should be permitted to play in the bubble,” Delle Donne said. “I love my team, and we had an unbelievable season last year, and I want to play! But the question is whether or not the WNBA bubble is safe for me. My personal physician who has treated me for Lyme disease for years advised me that I’m at high risk for contracting and having complications from COVID-19.”
Delle Donne was diagnosed with Lyme disease early in her life, and flare-ups of the illness have caused her to miss time in college, the WNBA and overseas. In an interview with ESPN back in 2016, Delle Donne said she takes “around 50 supplements a day to battle it.”
Unfortunately for Delle Donne, the Center for Disease Control does not include Lyme disease on its list of underlying medical conditions that could make someone more susceptible to complications from COVID-19. The WNBA and WNBPA’s panel of doctors takes that into consideration when making their decision.
In a statement, Delle Donne’s agent, Erin Kane, said Delle Donne’s initial reaction to the league’s ruling was “disbelief.” If she had been declared medically high-risk, Delle Donne would have been able to opt out of the season and still earn her full salary. Now that her request has been denied, she must choose between playing, and potentially putting herself at risk, and not being paid.
Considering Delle Donne’s medical history, including the way Lyme disease has impacted her WNBA career, and the paramount importance of health and safety during a pandemic, it seems strange that the league would deny her request. That decision not only puts one of its best players between a rock and a hard place, but looks terrible from a PR perspective.
Tina Charles, whom the Mystics acquired in an offseason trade, is also awaiting a ruling on her medical opt-out request. So far, 10 players have decided to sit out the 2020 season, both for health and social justice reasons, including MVP candidates Jonquel Jones and Liz Cambage.
Should Delle Donne join them, that would obviously be an immense loss of talent and star power for the league and greatly lower the Mystics’ chances of repeating as champions. However, it’s hard to be too concerned about that aspect right now, when the primary goal is simply keeping everyone healthy.