Reigning WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne is embroiled in the most ludicrous battle of the Covid-19 sports period after the Washington Mystics denied her application to skip the 2020 season in Orlando out of concerns for her health.
On Wednesday Delle Donne opened up about the situation in The Players’ Tribune, unloading on the league for not taking her concerns seriously. She suffers from Lyme disease, or what Delle Donne calls “chronic Lyme,” fallout from contracting the disease in early life. The result of which is a lifetime of potential effects, critical need for symptom management, and being defined in a high risk category to health providers.
Every day Delle Donne is forced to take 64 pills to stave off progression of her symptoms. The WNBA star detailed how her doctor wrote a lengthy explanation to the league about her situation and the risks involved, explaining that she wanted to play — but there were major concerns about traveling to Florida in the midst of a pandemic, including worries that hospitals would become overcrowded with Covid cases, to the point where she would not be able to get effective treatment, should she need to be admitted to hospital due to her Lyme disease.
Still the league rejected her request, saying her situation did not warrant a medical exemption. The prevailing sentiment of Delle Donne’s letter isn’t anger, or rage — it’s profound disappointment. Disappointment in a league she’s sacrificed so much for in order to be a part of. The cramped flights, playing with herniated discs during the 2019 finals, the lack of equality in pay — all things she has endured through her career. Now the same league she’s been a face of for much of her career has insinuated she’s making up a medical condition to avoid playing the WNBA bubble. A horrible inescapable feeling that your employer isn’t there for you at a time of need, and reducing a person with very real health concerns to simply being a cog in a machine to keep the league running during a pandemic.
Sadly, there is no out for Delle Donne. She notes that her salary isn’t near enough to fight the WNBA in court, as it would be possible for an NBA player to do. There’s no avenue for her to appeal the league’s decision, instead she is forced with either traveling to Orlando and preparing for the season, a prospect which rightfully scares her — or choosing to forfeit her pay. This decision is weighed by Delle Donne in her letter, saying she’s not yet ready to make a decision because there are many factors at play, but she approaches the situation with humility — acknowledging that millions of Americans are having equal, or even greater struggles deciding about their person safety and managing to make money in the pandemic.
We’re accustomed to seeing athletes and leagues battle over the future and rights of players, but not in this circumstance. A player’s health during a pandemic should transcend bickering, surpass marketing, especially when the player involved is synonymous with the league itself. The concept of the WNBA rejecting Delle Donne’s request, which came in conjunction with a doctor’s letter outlining the risk of her playing in a Covid hotspot is beyond reprehensible. It makes it tough to be excited for the league returning while knowing Delle Donne is struggling with a decision like this.
Right now the only thing the WNBA should be focused on is the health of its players. From there we can worry about play itself. Without one half of that vitally important social contract being upheld, the rest all feels like a disappointment.