Elena Delle Donne’s medical opt-out denied: “I’m now left with two choices: I can either risk my life or forfeit my paycheck.”

Elena Delle Donne is the WNBA’s reigning MVP and a 2019 WNBA champion, but her health puts her at risk for the coronavirus this season, according to her personal physician. So she applied for a medical opt-out, which if granted, would allow her to be compensated while sitting out the season.

“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 said.”The independent panel of doctors the league appointed to review high-risk cases [has] advised that I’m not high risk, and should be permitted to play in the bubble.”

With the WNBA’s three physicians not agreeing with her personal physician, Delle Donne finds herself in a compromising position.

Does she risk it and play? Or does she listen to her personal physician and opt-out, forfeiting her salary in the process?

“I appreciate that the league has worked incredibly hard to provide as safe an environment as possible for us to play basketball,” Delle Donne said Monday in a statement to ESPN. “I know it’s been a huge effort. 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’s Battle With Lyme Disease

For Delle Donne, her battle with Lyme disease has been well documented. She was diagnosed in 2008 with the disease, and has since had two relapses. Her first relapse came two years later in college at Delaware. She has battled muscle aches and fatigue and has taken supplements to offset the effects.

At one point, Delle Donne told her parents she thought she was dying after barely eating and losing 35 pounds. She eventually got a personal physician who has advised her through her battle.

“I take 64 pills a day. That’s 25 before breakfast, another 20 after breakfast, another 10 before dinner, and another 9 before bed,” Delle Done told the players tribune.

For Delle Donne it’s “a never ending, exhausting, miserable cycle,” but one that she has to endure daily. It’s her life because she has Lyme disease.

“Taking 64 pills a day is the only way to keep my condition under any sort of control. It’s the only way to keep myself healthy enough to play the game that I love — healthy enough to do my job and earn the paycheck that supports my family. Healthy enough to live something approaching a normal life.”

When the COVID pandemic hit the nation, Delle Donne knew she had to be extra careful when it came to protecting herself because of her preexisting condition. 

“When news of COVID started spreading, I immediately took it seriously. That’s not me bragging; those are just the instincts I’ve developed after almost a decade of living with Lyme disease. I’ve been told time and time again over the years that my condition makes me immunocompromised — that part of what Lyme does is it debilitates my immune system. I’ve had a common cold that sent my immune system spiraling into a serious relapse. I’ve relapsed off of a simple flu shot. There’s just been so many instances where I’ve contracted something that shouldn’t have been that big of a deal, but it blew my immune system out and turned into something scary.”

Delle Donne Faces An Unfair Decision 

The WNBA’s decision to deny her medical opt-out leaves Delle Donne in a compromising position: Risk her life or forfeit her salary. 

In Delle Donne’s open letter she expressed how much the league’s decision hurt her. 

“So really all I’m left with is how much this hurts. 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.”

For those that know Delle Donne, that is not what she is about. She is a competitor, constantly playing through pain and injuries. 

She called out those who are questioning her will to compete. 

“That’s why I played in the finals last year with THREE HERNIATED DISCS IN MY BACK. That’s why I work out during the seven months a year when we’re not in season, when no one’s watching me, when I’m not collecting my player salary,” Delle Donne wrote in her open letter. “That’s why I’ve crammed my 6’5” body into so many coach class flights that I almost forget what it’s like to have legs and feet that aren’t dangerously swollen. That’s why I take 64 pills a day. Because I’m the type of player who makes up a condition to avoid playing basketball.” 

My Disappointment in the WNBA

I find it weak and unlike the WNBA to put a player in this position.

Delle Donne is arguably the best player in the sport today. To force her to choose between her livelihood and her health is not right. Could you imagine the NBA telling LeBron to risk your health or sacrifice your pay?

This is a horrible look for the WNBA, and one that should be rectified.

The WNBA still has time to make things right and pay Delle Donne for the season regardless of if she opts in or out of the season. Taking care of your players, and even more so your star players is vital to the moral of the sport. You want your best players on your good side, not revolting.

Despite penning an open letter about her health, Delle Donne has not made a decision to opt-out or to play this season. 

“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.”- Delle Donne

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