WNBA star Delle Donne relieved not to have to choose between health, paycheck

  • Current Washington Mystics star and former Sky star Elena Delle Donne will not have to choose between her health and a paycheck this season after the Mystics announced they would pay her whether she plays or not. Delle Donne, who has been public with her Lyme disease diagnosis, had her medical exemption request initially denied by the league.

    Current Washington Mystics star and former Sky star Elena Delle Donne will not have to choose between her health and a paycheck this season after the Mystics announced they would pay her whether she plays or not. Delle Donne, who has been public with her Lyme disease diagnosis, had her medical exemption request initially denied by the league. AP File Photo/2019

 
 
Updated 7/17/2020 8:13 PM

I was really worried about the WNBA there for a minute.

How could such a thoughtful, progressive league, one that celebrates inclusion and diversity and working moms and equality, be so heartless?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

On Wednesday, WNBA superstar Elena Delle Donne, who played the first four years of her career in Chicago, penned a letter for the Players' Tribune that explained the anxiety she was going through in learning that the league had denied her request for medical exemption for playing the 2020 season due to her severe and well-documented case of Lyme disease.

Delle Donne was lamenting what she thought was an impossible choice: putting her life at risk by playing with a preexisting health condition that has compromised her immune system and could become very dangerous if she would contract COVID-19, and choosing to not play and foregoing her salary.

"Honestly? That hurts," Delle Donne wrote. "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 ... is that I'm faking a disability. That I'm trying to 'get out' of work and still collect a paycheck."

Wow. Harsh. Disturbing.

Happily, this story has now settled down. It seems like there was simply a communication gap.

The Washington Mystics, Delle Donne's current team, has said that she will be paid this season whether she plays or not, that the team wasn't in a position to say anything one way or another about her status until she made a public statement about her health.

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You know, HIPAA rules.

Once Delle Donne talked about her condition publicly, the Mystics swiftly announced their plan to pay her regardless.

That sounds more like the WNBA.

I doubt anyone with the league questions Delle Donne's health challenges. Lyme disease is tricky, and there are all kinds of medical schools of thought on it. But its destruction can be very real.

Delle Donne also wrote in her Players' Tribune piece that she takes 64 pills a day, a DAY, to combat her Lyme disease. When she was here in Chicago and had a flare-up that sidelined her for a large part of one season, she told me that sometimes she was so physically taxed and wiped out just from sleeping (yes, sleeping!) that she could barely get out of bed in the morning, barely lift her head off the pillow.

Delle Donne is arguably the best player in the WNBA. She has been since her rookie year. She has no reason to concoct some over-the-top story about a debilitating health condition just to get out of playing basketball.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

From all accounts, Delle Donne loves basketball. And she's good at it. And she makes a lot of money because of basketball.

She's the real deal, and so, unfortunately, is her condition.

Thank goodness the Mystics are doing the right thing and paying Delle Donne while allowing her to keep herself safe. Putting herself in the WNBA's bubble in Florida would definitely be risky for someone in her position.

Good fortune:

Delle Donne clearly seemed stressed about her predicament in her piece for the Players' Tribune.

But to her credit, she recognized that others have it far worse than her.

And now that the Mystics announced that she will still get paid a full salary even if she doesn't play at all this season, that is definitely the case.

What about people out there with preexisting conditions who still have to go to work and be exposed to the public simply because they can't afford not to? Choosing to stay home for them would mean no paycheck. And possibly no food, and no shelter.

"I know millions of Americans right now, in situations that are much worse than (mine)," Delle Donne said. "Millions more are out of work entirely. I want to express my deepest solidarity with them."

I'm glad Delle Donne seems to understand how fortunate she is to play in a league like the WNBA that is protective of its employees in a way that many employers are not.

What to watch:

The National Women's Soccer League has been playing games over the last month without fans and at a single site in Utah, but with much success for the players who were anxious to be able to get in some kind of season this year.

The Chicago Red Stars are in the quarterfinals of the Challenge Cup and will take on the OL Reign, a team from Tacoma, Washington, at 9 p.m. Saturday night on CBS All Access from Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah.

The NWSL Challenge Cup semifinals and finals will be next week, with the championship game next Sunday, July 26 on CBS.

Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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