• Anthony Studnicka

Uncertainty Surrounds WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne and Washington Mystics Season

By: Anthony Studnicka



Photo credit: Elena Delle Donne Instagram.

Over the past few days, Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne has been in the news frequently. The 2019 WNBA Champion and MVP has taken the spread of COVID-19 seriously, and for good reason. Delle Donne has been living with chronic Lyme disease for over a decade, and as a result, has a compromised immune system.[1] With the WNBA set to return July 25 in Florida, Delle Donne was faced with a difficult decision on how to proceed.

While consulting with her doctors Delle Donne received a clear answer. It would be too risky for her to play the 2020 season.[2] Delle Donne is increasingly susceptible to COVID-19 and returning to play would leave her highly vulnerable.

To add to the stress, as if taking 64 pills daily[3] to keep her condition under control wasn’t enough, Delle Donne had further concerns regarding the return of the WNBA season. With the WNBA set to return in Florida and COVID-19 cases rising there, Delle Donne had concerns of what would happen if she had to potentially go to a hospital and they were too overwhelmed.[4]

But wait, there’s still more. As if the 64 pills and concern over Florida hospitals were not enough, when the WNBA conducted a review to see what players would be granted an exemption to sit out the season and receive their salary, Delle Donne’s request was denied. This denial from an independent medical panel came without consulting her or her doctors.[5]

If anyone were to question Delle Donne’s toughness and loyalty to her team, they should be reminded that she played through a broken nose, a lingering knee injury, and multiple herniated discs in an effort to win the WNBA Finals last season.[6]

Now, on the bright side, the Washington Mystics remember that heroic effort. The Mystics have stated they intend to support Delle Donne finically regardless if she is on or off the court. But one still can’t help but wonder, why was Delle Donne’s exemption request denied?

Phoenix Mercury forward Jessica Breland is one example of a player who was granted an exemption.[7] While in college, Breland had Hodgkin Lymphoma. This leads one to wonder, what exactly is the standard to be granted an exemption? Both Hodgkin Lymphoma and Lyme disease affect the immune system. While a medical expert may be able to put it more delicately, it seems reasonable to reach the conclusion that this may be somewhat similar, at least in the context of being more vulnerable to COVID-19 than the average person.

It may be relevant to note and reiterate that Breland is a 32-year-old one-time all-star, and Delle Donne is the reigning league MVP. Is there any possibility that this had anything to do with the exemptions being granted for one player, but denied for the other?

It would be improper to question the integrity of the independent medical panel, as they were approved by both the WNBA and the WNBA players union.[8] But there is no doubt that if Delle Donne does not play, this decision will inevitably impact the WNBA’s ratings and competitivity. Dually, one can only imagine how losing Delle Donne will diminish fan interest.

The reality is due to privacy reasons, we’ll likely never know why Delle Donne’s medical exemption was denied. All that can be done at this time is to keep a close eye on the medical panel and ensure they are rendering fair decisions moving forward. Through this, a standard may be created of what will meet the granted exemption status. However, this may easier be said than done due to the privacies in place with medical information. Therefore, after already receiving support from her own organization, Delle Donne’s next move will likely be to turn to the Players Association and exhaust any appeal measure that may be in place for her to utilize.

The additional complication this situation creates is despite the Mystics ensuring their intention to pay Delle Donne her league-maximum $215,000 salary regardless if she plays or not, the $215,000 will still ultimately hit against the Mystics cap space. This further complicates things as the Mystics hands may be tied moving forward, as they are at the salary cap.[9] If Delle Donne does elect to sit out, it will be interesting to see how the Mystics handle this predicament with limited time before the season is set to get started.



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Anthony is a third year student at Arizona State University pursuing a J.D. and a Master of Sports Law & Business. He is the creator of Long Run Sports.


[1] Tamara Pridgett, Elena Delle Donne Is Concerned About COVID-19, But the WNBA Won’t Let Her Forgo The Season, Yahoo (Jul. 16, 2020), https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/elena-delle-donne-concerned-covid-204024639.html. [2] Elena Delle Donne, An Open Letter About My Health, The Players Tribune (Jul. 16, 2020), https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/elena-delle-donne-wnba-season-lyme-disease. [3] Id. [4] Id. [5] Id. [6] Meredith Cash, The Washington Mystics Stepped Up And Will Pay Elena Delle Donne’s WNBA Salary Even If She Opts Out Of 2020 Season Over Coronavirus Concerns, Insider (Jul. 16, 2020), https://www.insider.com/washington-mystics-pay-elena-delle-donne-wnba-salary-opt-out-2020-7. [7] Mechelle Voepel, Mystics’ Elena Delle Donne Hopes Denial Of Medical Exemption Not Based On Her Status In WNBA, ABC News (Jul. 15, 2020), https://abcnews.go.com/Sports/mystics-elena-delle-donne-hopes-denial-medical-exemption/story?id=71805237. [8] Tamara Pridgett, Elena Delle Donne Is Concerned About COVID-19, But the WNBA Won’t Let Her Forgo The Season, Yahoo (Jul. 16, 2020), https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/elena-delle-donne-concerned-covid-204024639.html. [9] Albert Lee, Mystics Announce There Is No Timetable On Elena Delle Donne And Tina Charles’ Possible Medical Exemptions, Bullets Forever (Jul. 9, 2020), https://www.bulletsforever.com/mystics/2020/7/9/21318543/washington-mystics-mike-thibault-elena-delle-donne-tina-charles-status.

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