- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Elena Delle Donne can’t believe it’s gotten to this point — “risk my life … or forfeit my paycheck.”

The Mystics star wrote in The Players’ Tribune on Wednesday that the WNBA’s decision not to grant her request to opt out of the 2020 season due to underlying health concerns “hurts a lot.”

Delle Donne, who suffers from Lyme disease, believed she would be medically excused from participating as her personal doctor deemed her “high risk” due to the nature of the season being played in a “bubble” at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

But the WNBA ruled against her.

“And maybe being hurt just makes me naive,” Delle Donne wrote. “And I know that, as athletes, we’re really not 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.”

Lyme 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 WNBA follows the CDC’s guidelines for evaluating at-risk cases.

Delle Donne wrote the WNBA has “been my one big dream in life for as long as I can remember, and that I’ve given my blood, sweat and tears” for seven or eight seasons. The league “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.”

Delle Donne broke the news to ESPN in a statement Monday night.

“I love my team, and we had an unbelievable season last year, and I want to play!” she wrote in the statement. 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.”

Delle Donne wrote in the article that she takes 64 pills a day — “25 before breakfast, another 20 after breakfast, another 10 before dinner, and another 9 before bed.”

She calls it a “never-ending, miserable cycle.”

If the pills are not killing her long term, taking all of them are “straight-up bad for you.”

But she writes it’s the only way for her to keep her condition under control. Delle Donne calls it “chronic Lyme disease” since she was bitten by a tick while in high school since 2008.

“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,” Delle Donne wrote. “Healthy enough to live something approaching a normal life.”

Delle Donne re-signed with Mystics in February and would make $215,000 this year. Delle Donne would have earned her entire salary for the season if she had been medically cleared. Now, if she chooses not to play, the Mystics wouldn’t have to pay her.

Delle Donne regrets not having done more to talk about Lyme disease. She adds she could been using her platform as a professional athlete to help raise awareness.

She was the first national ambassador to help promote awareness of the tick-borne disease, joining on in 2014.

Neither Delle Donne or teammate Tina Charles made the trip to Bradenton with the Mystics. Charles is still waiting to hear about her opt-out request.

Delle Donne led the Mystics to the franchise’s first WNBA title last season. She averaged 19.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. She became the first WNBA player to shoot over 50% from the field (51.5%), 40% from behind the 3-point line (43%), and 90% from the foul line (97.4%). Only eight NBA players have accomplished that feat. Delle Donne played in last season’s WNBA Finals with three herniated discs in her back.

The Mystics would be down to just 10 players if both Delle Donne and Charles miss the season because Washington is unable to sign replacements due to being over the salary cap.

Mystics coach and general manager Mike Thibault said Wednesday that Delle Donne wouldn’t be rushed back to play.

“She’s part of our roster and she is being paid and continuing to rehab from her offseason back surgery,” Thibault said. “If at some point later in the season we’re all comfortable and I mean all comfortable enough with both her physical progress and the safety of her joining the team in Florida we’ll make those arrangements. 

“If we don’t feel that, she’ll continue to do her workouts in D.C. and get herself ready for the following season.”

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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