Elena Delle Donne 'shocked' her WNBA season medical opt-out request was denied, Mystics say she'll be paid

Elena Delle Donne, WNBA champion and two-time MVP, tells Coy Wire that she is still in shock over the league's decision to deny her medical opt-out request.

Posted: Jul 16, 2020 5:31 PM
Updated: Jul 16, 2020 5:31 PM

Elena Delle Donne, the reigning WNBA MVP, wants to play basketball.

But the Washington Mystics star, who has battled Lyme disease for years, also wonders how her body would react if she contracted Covid-19 while playing.

On Monday, a panel of doctors denied Delle Donne's request to opt-out of the WNBA season for medical reasons, saying she is not at high risk of contracting Covid-19 and should be allowed to play.

However, Delle Donne, 30, said in a statement that her personal physician had told her that she's indeed at high risk.

The panel of doctors was approved by the league and the Women's National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA).

"I was shocked," Delle Donne, also a WNBPA vice president, told CNN on Wednesday. "And the process makes it hard because there's no ability to even appeal and I wasn't able to speak with the panel."

In an essay in The Players Tribune on Wednesday, Delle Donne revealed that she takes 64 pills a day, and she told CNN it takes a toll on her.

"It does, and it scares me," Delle Donne said. "I mean I know that's not safe. I know that being on antibiotics for a long period of time isn't healthy but I also know that when I don't take that medication I feel awful and I can't play basketball, I can't even get out of bed at times, so it's just kind of what I have to do to live the most normal life possible."

The WNBA, when reached by CNN on Monday, declined to comment on Delle Donne's opt-out request, citing privacy concerns on health matters.

WNBPA executive director Terri Jackson said in an email Wednesday to CNN, "It's inappropriate for the PA to comment on a player's medical status. EDD is a valued and trusted member of our player leadership. We support her 1000%."

Mystics: 'We have intended to (pay her) from the start'

Delle Donne is still weighing whether to play this season, which begins on July 25 and will be held at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. She told CNN that if she decides not to play, she would get "zero percent" of her salary and wouldn't be getting most of her endorsements.

"We don't make NBA money, and I think that's been well covered and people understand that," Delle Donne said. "You know, my bank account isn't as deep as if I was making NBA money, but I do know that our league is growing. With our latest CBA agreement, we made huge strides in getting players paid more. And we're continuing to grow our game and grow this league.

"I've invested so much in this league and I've seen it grow so much in my years of being here. So, for a moment like this, to kind of just feel like, blighted, has been tough, but this stuff happens, and I hope we can move forward and this can just be a learning experience."

However, Mystics head coach and general manager Mike Thibault said Wednesday to reporters -- following CNN's interview with Delle Donne -- that Delle Donne is still getting paid as a member of the team.

Delle Donne, who helped the Mystics win their first title despite playing through the WNBA Finals with three herniated discs, had back surgery in January and is continuing rehabilitation. According to Thibault, she is not yet physically ready to play.

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

On Wednesday, Thibault was asked if Delle Donne, who has a guaranteed contract, would be paid if her back feels better and she doesn't feel comfortable playing because of Covid-19 concerns.

"We can do whatever we want as far as that's concerned," Thibault said. "We have intended to do that (pay her) from the start. She's a major part of our team and she's making every effort to do the rehab that she needs to do. I don't want to speculate what that's going to look like in four to six weeks. I don't think that's fair to us or her at this point until see where she is."

Delle Donne told CNN she wants to make her decision as soon as possible, saying, "I don't want this to drag on. I don't want my teammates in the bubble having to deal with this."

However, she expressed that she is fortunate to be in a position to make a choice.

"I know there's so many people through Covid who have lost their jobs, who haven't been able to decide whether to take care of themselves health-wise or go to work because they just don't have the option," Delle Donne said. "So, I know I'm in a situation where I am super blessed and I'm just going to have to figure this out and decide what's going to be the best route."

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