Mystics say they'll pay Elena Delle Donne even if she doesn't play this season after WNBA rejects exemption

Jack Baer
·Writer
·4 min read

Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne revealed on Monday that the league had declined to deem her high-risk for the upcoming season despite her chronic Lyme disease, seemingly leaving the reigning WNBA MVP to choose between her safety and her paycheck.

Fortunately, the Mystics clarified on Wednesday that it still plans to pay her even if she doesn’t play a game.

Mystics coach and general manager Mike Thibault said in a Zoom call that Delle Donne will be paid throughout the season, per ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel. He also noted that Delle Donne is still rehabbing from back surgery she underwent this January

"The fact of the matter is the Mystics organization will never put Elena's -- or any other of our players' -- health and well-being in jeopardy at any time," Thibault said. "As in the past, 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 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 D.C. and get herself ready for the following season. Her long-term care and health as a major foundation piece of the Mystics will always take precedence."

It’s a bit odd that Thibault is already talking about the team and Delle Donne possibly re-evaluating her decision to play in the WNBA bubble. He mentions the end of Delle Donne’s rehab and becoming comfortable with her safety in Florida as a time to reevaluate her playing, but the question was never about Delle Donne playing while she was still rehabbing. It also seems quite unlikely the coronavirus will be under control by the end of the WNBA regular season in early September.

Delle Donne’s agent, Erin Kane, told ESPN that she he still has two major concerns. The first is the Mystics could require her to rehab at their Washington D.C. training facility instead of at home:

"That's still a risk she's not sure she's willing to take," Kane said, adding that Delle Donne has been doing her rehab regularly at home. "And for her, the decision has never been about her back. It's about her Lyme disease, and what's safe."

Kane also reportedly took issue with the idea that Delle Donne could still be faced with a decision on playing in the WNBA bubble, which she reportedly believes would still be a major risk. Delle Donne published an account of her battle with Lyme disease to emphasize that risk earlier Wednesday.

Elena Delle Donne says she takes 64 pills per day

Delle Donne began her Players' Tribune post by reeling off the number of pills she takes on a daily basis to manage her Lyme disease: 25 before breakfast, 20 after breakfast, 10 before dinner, 9 before bed, totaling up to 64 pills per day.

The pills are not small.

Delle Donne said that her illness — which she described in full as “Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome with a current active infection with a different strain of borrelia and bartonella as well as other co-infections” — has also left her immunocompromised:

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.

It was in that context that Delle Donne pushed for a medical exemption from playing in the WNBA bubble with no financial repercussions. She said her doctors wrote up a full report with her medical history and confirmation of her high-risk status with COVID-19, and that it was endorsed by another report from the Mystics team doctor.

She said the WNBA’s panel of doctors still rejected her request without once speaking to her or her doctors. Even if the Mystics say they will still pay Delle Donne, a league panel of doctors denying such a request makes you wonder if it could happen again, perhaps to an athlete that doesn’t have the name recognition of Delle Donne.

Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne warms up before Game 1 of a WNBA playoff basketball series against the Las Vegas Aces, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
This doesn't seem like something the WNBA MVP should have to worry about. Or any athlete, really. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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