Women's NBA MVP Delle Donne hurt by opt-out rejection

Miami (AFP) –


Two-time Women's NBA Most Valuable Player Elena Delle Donne ripped the league Wednesday for rejecting her medical opt-out exemption application to avoid coronavirus risks this year due to Lyme disease.

The 30-year-old forward, who led the United States to 2016 Rio Olympic gold and a 2018 world title, sparked the Washington Mystics' 2019 WNBA championship run, taking MVP honors as she did in the 2015 campaign.

This year's WNBA season was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and rescheduled to a bubble environment at the IMG Academy in South Florida. It's scheduled to tip off on July 25.

Delle Donne, however, is being asked to choose between risking her health or forfeiting her salary after a league medical panel turned down her request for a health exemption due to Lyme disease, which "destroyed" her immune system and forces her to take 64 pills daily, she said in an essay on the Players Tribune website.

"It's almost like I'm asked to ignore the one doctor who didn't ignore me and has helped me to live a normal life for nine years," she told ESPN.

Delle Donne wonders if being a WNBA star caused her rejection despite a compromised immune system.

"I'm not sure. I really hope it didn't," she said on ESPN. "I really hope that wasn't the reason this happened... I don't want to believe that's what happened... but unfortunately it might be what happened."

Delle Donne sent the league reports from her personal physician and team doctor both declaring her at high risk should she catch the deadly disease playing in the WNBA bubble located in the Miami area where cases of the pandemic have spiked in recent weeks.

That, Delle Donne thought, would enable her to receive a health exemption, allowing her to collect her salary without having to risk playing.

"The league's panel of doctors -- without ever once speaking to me or to either of my doctors -- informed me that they were denying my request for a health exemption," she wrote.

"I'm now left with two choices: I can either risk my life or forfeit my paycheck. Honestly? That hurts. It hurts a lot."

Delle Donne said she didn't think there would be any question she would receive the exemption because, "I've played my entire career with an immune system that's high-risk."

Instead, she continues to weigh her decision about whether or not to play and what might happen if she had to go to a hospital in an area where COVID-19 has filled rooms everywhere.

"It'll be pretty soon. This isn't something I want to drag on," she said. "It's going to take a couple days for us to figure it out."

Delle Donne would lose sponsorship money if she doesn't play.

"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. So really all I'm left with is how much this hurts," she said.

"What I hear in their decision is that I'm a fool for believing my doctor. That I'm faking a disability. That I'm trying to 'get out' of work and still collect a paycheck."