Basketball

WNBA star Delle Donne hurt that independent panel denied request for medical exemption

WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne, who has battled Lyme disease for more than 10 years, was shocked and hurt when her request to be medically excused for the season was denied by an independent medical panel.

Reigning MVP takes 64 pills daily for Lyme disease she has battled for over a decade

Washington Mystics' Elena Delle Donne said Monday the league's physician panel denied her a medical exemption for Lyme disease, going against advice of her team and personal doctors not to play in the WNBA's restart because of the condition. (Will Newton/Getty Images)

WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne was shocked and hurt when her request to be medically excused for the season was denied by an independent medical panel.

Having battled Lyme disease since 2008 and now taking 64 pills a day, she thought she was definitely going to be considered high-risk to get severe illness if she contracted the coronavirus.

The panel of independent doctors the league and union agreed upon to make that decision thought otherwise, ruling Monday the Washington Mystics star was not "high risk, and should be permitted to play in the bubble."

The disease is not included on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's list of underlying conditions that could put someone at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Delle Donne wrote in The Players' Tribune on Wednesday about her disappointment with the panel's ruling and the decision to "risk my life … or forfeit my paycheque."

"It hurts a lot. And maybe being hurt just makes me naive," Delle Donne wrote. "And I know that, as athletes, we're not really supposed to talk about our feelings. But feelings are pretty much all I have left right now. I don't have NBA player money. I don't have the desire to go to war with the league on this. And I can't appeal."

Back surgery in late January

Delle Donne, who just re-signed with Washington in February and would make $215,000 US this year, said she's still deciding what she's going to do.

Delle Donne is on Washington's roster and is currently getting paid by the Mystics. Washington coach and general manager Mike Thibault made it clear in a Zoom call Wednesday that Delle Donne wouldn't be rushed back to play as she's been rehabbing her back after having surgery in late January to address the three herniated disks she suffered in the playoffs last year.

"She's part of our roster and she is being paid and continuing to rehab from her off-season back surgery," Thibault said. "If at some point later in the season we're all comfortable and I mean all comfortable enough with both her physical progress and the safety of her joining the team in Florida we'll make those arrangements. If we don't feel that, she'll continue to do her workouts in D.C. and get herself ready for the following season."

Had Delle Donne been medically excused, she would have earned her entire salary for the season. Now, if she chooses not to play, the defending WNBA champion Mystics wouldn't have to pay her.

"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," Delle Donne said in the statement. "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's statement was first obtained by ESPN.

"I'm thinking things over, talking to my doctor and my wife, and look forward to sharing what I ultimately plan to do very soon," the 30-year-old said. "My heart has gone out to everyone who has had to choose between their health and having an income, and of course to anyone who has lost their job, their home, and anyone they love in this pandemic."

League declines comment

The league declined to comment, citing privacy concerns about player health matters.

She is coming off a historic season where she helped lead Washington to its first WNBA title. She shot over 50 per cent from the field, 40 per cent from behind the 3-point arc and over 90 per cent from the foul line last season to become the first player in league history to do so.

Delle Donne's new teammate Tina Charles also was waiting for a decision from the medical panel. If both players miss the season, the Mystics would be down to 10 players on the roster.

"As with all of our players, we have and will support Elena throughout this process. The health and well-being of our players is of the utmost importance," Mystics coach and general manager Mike Thibault said.

Charles and Delle Donne did not travel with the team to Bradenton, Fla., last week. The WNBA is using IMG Academy as a single site for its season which will begin on July 25.

There are a handful of players who are waiting to have their cases heard by the three-person panel. Phoenix forward Jessica Breland, who missed a year while at North Carolina to be treated for Hodgkin's lymphoma, was deemed high-risk and was medically excused, the Mercury said.

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