• October 19, 2021

WNBA denies Elena Delle Donne’s medical opt-out request; Delle Donne and the team respond

Elena Delle Donne. Photo: NBAE/Getty Images.
Elena Delle Donne. Photo: NBAE/Getty Images.

7/15/20 Update: Elene Delle Donne responded to the league’s denial with an essay in The Players’ Tribune

Delle Donne prefaced her essay on social media with this statement: “The league I’ve given my blood, sweat and tears to has basically told me that my doctors are wrong and I’m wrong for believing them. So I wrote this.”

In her essay, she explained how she copes with the disease, the pain she endured playing last season with three herniated disks in her back on top of the Lyme disease she has, and that she cannot appeal the league’s decision.

“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.”

Washington Mystics head coach Mike Thibault addressed the situation on Wednesday in a videotaped statement:

Video: Washington Mystics.

“There’s obviously been much said, and a lot of opinions given in both the national media and on social media regarding Elena Delle Donne’s medical situation and playing status for this season. To clarify, where we stand. The WNBA Players’ Association and the WNBA league office agreed to set up a process for an independent panel to review cases like Elena’s and Tina’s. And that’s the process that was set up. HIPAA rules make it such that the player is notified of the decision by the players’ association while the team is not.

Elena shared the letter with us, but we weren’t able to make an announcement regarding the decision unless the player makes a public statement first. Elena and her agent, Erin Kane, picked the time to share it publicly.

The fact of the matter is that the Mystics organization will never put Elena’s or any other of our other players, health and well-being in jeopardy at any time. As in the past, both with her Lyme disease history and her on-court injuries, all decisions about her ability to play will be made jointly with Elena. She is part of our roster. She is being paid, and is continuing to rehab from her offseason back surgery. If at some point later in the season, we are all comfortable, I mean all comfortable enough, with both 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.

For long-term care and health is a major foundation piece of the Mystics, will always take precedence. We have witnessed firsthand the Elena’s commitment that she puts into combat her Lyme disease and prepare herself to practice and play. And we are committed to assisting her and raising awareness about this disease.”

The WNBA denied Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne a medical opt out for the 2020 season as the team is set to begin play in an isolated environment in Florida to protect players from the COVID-19 virus.

Delle Donne, the league’s reigning MVP, has Lyme disease and requested that she be excused from playing as her personal physician advised her that she’s at a high risk for contracting the virus and suffering complications. ESPN was the first to report the denial of by an independent panel of doctors appointed by the WNBA. Players who receive a medical opt out will receive their full salary for the season. Delle Donne, along with teammate Tina Charles, did not travel with the team to Florida last week as they entered the league’s medical evaluation protocol implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I love my team, and we had an unbelievable season last year, and I want to play!” Delle Donne said in a statement to ESPN. “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.”

Fellow Mystics player Natasha Cloud, who is sitting out the season to focus on social justice issues, voiced her disappointment at the league’s denial via social media.

“It’s bull—-,” Cloud wrote. “@WNBA either play or risk her life…what do we stand for? Cause apparently it’s not the players.”

The WNBA season starts July 25 with each team playing a 22-game slate.

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