Elena Delle Donne says she’s still deciding whether to play this season

Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne speaks at a news conference after being named the 2019 WNBA MVP.
Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne speaks at a news conference after being named the 2019 WNBA MVP.
(Nick Wass / Associated Press)

Elena Delle Donne still hasn’t decided whether she’s going to join her Washington Mystics teammates in the WNBA bubble in Bradenton, Fla., for an abbreviated season starting later this month.

But the league’s reigning MVP does know how she feels about being forced to make such a decision in the first place.

“I can either risk my life..... or forfeit my paycheck,” Delle Donne wrote in an open letter published Wednesday by The Players’ Tribune. “Honestly? That hurts.”

Delle Donne has Lyme disease. She says she takes 64 pills a day to help treat a condition that, in part, debilitates her immune system. So when the WNBA began revealing its plan to start the season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Delle Donne consulted her personal physician, who advised her not to play.


She got reports from the doctor who has treated her for Lyme disease and the Mystics team doctor, both confirming her as high risk, and submitted them to the league in an attempt to receive a medical exemption from playing this season.

For some WNBA players, a strictly quarantined season, a pandemic and social unrest were reasons to pass. For Parker, those were reasons to play.

“I didn’t even think it was a question whether I would be exempt or not,” Delle Donne wrote. “I didn’t need a panel of league doctors to tell me that my immune system was high-risk — I’ve played my entire career with an immune system that’s high-risk!!!

“I LIVE with an immune system that’s high-risk.”

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not include Lyme disease on its list of conditions that could put a person at increased risk from COVID-19. A few days after submitting her information to the league, Delle Donne said, she was informed that an independent panel of doctors agreed upon by the league and its players’ union determined she did not meet the requirements for exemption.

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

Mystics coach and general manager Mike Thibault said Wednesday in a Zoom call that Delle Donne actually will get paid for the entire season, whether or not she ends up playing. Delle Donne suffered three herniated disks during the team’s playoff run to the WNBA championship last season and is rehabbing her back after having surgery in late January.

“She’s part of our roster and she is being paid and continuing to rehab from her offseason 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.”

In addition to announcing plans on how it plans to address the issues of social inequality, the WNBA also revealed COVID-19 testing results for players.

Delle Donne is unable to appeal the decision, and she says she doesn’t have the money or desire to fight the league in court.

“So really all I’m left with is how much this hurts,” she wrote. “How much it hurts that the W — a place that’s been my one big dream in life for as long as I can remember, and that I’ve given my blood, sweat and tears to for seven going on eight seasons — has basically told me that I’m wrong about what’s happening in my own body. What I hear in their decision is that I’m a fool for believing my doctor. That I’m faking a disability. That I’m trying to ‘get out’ of work and still collect a paycheck. ...

“Because I’m the type of player who makes up a condition to avoid playing basketball.

“They figured me out.”