Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne, the reigning MVP, had her request to withdraw from 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 the 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 open letter published by The Players Tribune, Delle Donne wrote that she takes 64 supplements a day to battle it. The two-time league MVP went on to explain how, despite the best efforts by the WNBA to make the bubble as safe as possible, there's no guarantee that COVID-19 will be nonexistent, which puts her at severe risk.
"I know so many people at the league put in crazy hours to protect the players and make it as safe as possible. But the fact of the matter is, I was told that when it came down to it, it would be impossible to keep COVID-19 out of the bubble entirely. And then Florida cases started rising. And even if the bubble is the safest place in Florida….. if I had to go to a hospital, and the hospital was overwhelmed, then what?
I still wanted to play, but I was scared. I talked to my personal physician about what the league planned to do, and he felt it was still too risky."
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 sit out 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, or 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 public relations 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.