Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne, the WNBA’s Most Valuable Player last year, has battled Lyme Disease since 2008 and would potentially be at a higher risk for serious illness if she contracted the new coronavirus. Alex Brandon/Associated Press

NEW YORK — WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne was shocked and hurt when her request to be medically excused for the season was denied by an independent medical panel.

Having battled Lyme disease for more than a decade and now taking 64 pills a day, she thought she was definitely going to be considered high-risk to get severe illness if she contracted the coronavirus.

The panel of independent doctors the league and union agreed upon to make that decision thought otherwise, ruling Monday that she was not “high risk, and should be permitted to play in the bubble.”

The disease is not included on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of underlying conditions that could put someone at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

The Washington Mystics star wrote in The Players’ Tribune on Wednesday about her disappointment with the panel’s ruling and the decision to “risk my life … or forfeit my paycheck.”

“It hurts a lot. And maybe being hurt just makes me naive,” Delle Donne wrote. “And I know that, as athletes, we’re not really supposed to talk about our feelings. But feelings are pretty much all I have left right now. I don’t have NBA player money. I don’t have the desire to go to war with the league on this. And I can’t appeal.”


Delle Donne, who just re-signed with Washington in February and would make $215,000 this year, said she’s still deciding what she’s going to do.

She’s on Washington’s roster and is currently getting paid by the Mystics. She had back surgery in late January to address the three herniated disks she suffered in the playoffs last year. The season begins on July 25 and according to her agent, the team wants Delle Donne to come to Florida in August once she’s ready to play.

Had Delle Donne been medically excused, she would have earned her entire salary for the season. Now, if she chooses not to play, the defending WNBA champion Mystics wouldn’t have to pay her.

The 30-year-old forward acknowledges in her open letter that she could have done more over the past six years to help take a more public role in the fight against Lyme disease. She was the first national ambassador to help promote awareness of the tick-borne disease, joining on in 2014.

She is coming off a historic season where she helped lead Washington to its first WNBA title. She shot over 50% from the field, 40% from behind the 3-point arc and over 90% from the foul line last season to become the first player in league history to do so.

Delle Donne’s new teammate Tina Charles also was waiting for a decision from the medical panel. If both players miss the season, the Mystics would be down to 10 players on the roster.

“As with all of our players, we have and will support Elena throughout this process. The health and well-being of our players is of the utmost importance,” Mystics coach and general manager Mike Thibault said.

Charles and Delle Donne did not travel with the team to Bradenton, Florida. The WNBA is using IMG Academy as a single site for its season which will begin on July 25.

There are a handful of players who are waiting to have their cases heard by the three-person panel. Phoenix forward Jessica Breland, who missed a year while at North Carolina to be treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was deemed high-risk and was medically excused, the Mercury said.

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