While Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne did not receive the medical exemption for the 2020 WNBA season from the league that she expected amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the team says she will be paid her full salary even if she misses the season.
Mechelle Voepel of ESPN reported Mystics coach and general manager Mike Thibault said Delle Donne is on the roster and would be paid her salary even while she rehabs from the back surgery she underwent in January.
"Thibault seemed somewhat perplexed as to why Delle Donne gave the impression, though, that she had to choose between playing this season and getting paid," Voepel wrote. "He said that is not the case."
Delle Donne thought she would be classified as high risk amid the pandemic because she has Lyme disease.
Despite Thibau's comments, Delle Donne's agent, Erin Kane, said she and her client are still concerned about the possibility of the Mystics asking her to rehab at their training facility—and increasing her potential exposure to COVID-19—or the team asking her to join the WNBA bubble in Bradenton, Florida, if it eventually thinks she is healthy enough to take the court.
Per Voepel, Thibault did say the team could decide at a later point that Delle Donne should join the team in Florida.
"If at some point, later in the season, we are all comfortable enough with both her physical progress and the safety of joining the team in Florida, then we will make those arrangements," he said. "If we don't feel that, then she will continue to do her workouts in D.C. and get herself ready for the following season. Her long-term care and health as a major foundation piece of the Mystics will always take precedence."
Delle Donne wrote about the WNBA's decision, Lyme disease, her treatment regimen and the risks she faces for The Players' Tribune on Wednesday.
"I've been told time and time again over the years that my condition makes me immunocompromised—that part of what Lyme does is it debilitates my immune system," she wrote. "... And so when I read that immunocompromised people are at a higher risk with COVID, I took every possible precaution. (Which, by the way, I realize is a huge privilege I have that most people don't.) I treated COVID like any high-risk person should: as a matter of life and death. ... I still wanted to play, but I was scared. I talked to my personal physician about what the league planned to do, and he felt it was still too risky."
She also spoke on SportsCenter and said she hoped her status as one of the faces of the league didn't contribute to the decision to deny her medical exemption (h/t Voepel):
"I'm not sure, and I really hope it didn't. I hope they would treat me as 'Player X' and they see that I've been treated for something for nine years. They've seen my bloodwork; I've submitted everything.
"So I really hope that wasn't the reason why this happened. I hope it's doctors just still being unaware of Lyme disease and not having Lyme-literate doctors on that panel, because I don't want to believe that's what happened. Unfortunately, it might be what happened."
Delle Donne is a two-time WNBA MVP and six-time All-Star who led the Mystics to a championship last season.
Her team will look to repeat during a shortened 22-game regular season at IMG Academy.
Washington's first game is July 25 against the Indiana Fever.