Elena Delle Donne has spoken about her battle with Lyme disease before, but she feels like she hasn’t done it enough. After a panel of physicians jointly approved by the WNBA Players Association and WNBA denied her medical opt-out request because of her coronavirus concerns, Delle Donne gave more detail on her battle than ever before.
The Washington Mystics star wrote a letter published in the Players’ Tribune on Wednesday revealing that she takes 64 pills a day, knowing that it isn’t good for her long-term health.
“Taking 64 pills a day is the only way to keep my condition under any sort of control,” Delle Donne said in the letter. “It’s the only way to keep myself healthy enough to play the game that I love — healthy enough to do my job and earn the paycheck that supports my family.”
The denial of Delle Donne’s opt-out request can’t be appealed. She either has to risk playing or forfeit her paycheck.
Missing that paycheck is a big financial hit for a WNBA player. Unlike most NBA players, they aren’t millionaires. Delle Donne earned a league-maximum $115,000 in the final season of her last contract. In comparison, the NBA’s veteran minimum starts at $2 million for players with six years of experience.
“It hurts a lot. And maybe being hurt just makes me naive,” Delle Donne said. “And I know that, as athletes, we’re not really supposed to talk about our feelings. But feelings are pretty much all I have left right now. 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.”
While some people think it’s a no-brainer for Delle Donne to sit out, she is weighing huge financial implications. In the offseason, she signed a four-year, $899,480 maximum contract under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Her $215,000 salary for this season is nearly double what she made last year.
It’s a position many people wouldn’t expect the reigning MVP of a league to be in. Her 2019 season was one of the greatest the WNBA has ever seen. She became the first player to record the ultimate line of shooting efficiency, 50% on field goals-40% on three-pointers-90% on free throws..
Delle Donne said she competed in the WNBA finals with three herniated discs in her back. That’s just one example of how she sacrificed her body.
“That’s why I’ve crammed my 6′5″ body into so many coach class flights that I almost forget what it’s like to have legs and feet that aren’t dangerously swollen,” Delle Donne said.
With the Mystics’ first game scheduled for July 25 against the Indiana Fever, Delle Donne said she is evaluating her options. Meanwhile, the league says it wants to protect its players, and the the players association, which agreed to the physician panel, is charged with ensuring its members are treated fairly.
Delle Donne’s case and Lyme disease are rare. It’s why Delle Donne’s personal doctor wrote a letter to the panel detailing her painful battle, but that wasn’t enough.
“I know it’s way past time for me to take a more public role in the battle against Lyme disease — a battle that I’ve been fighting mostly privately for years,” Delle Donne said. “I’m truly sorry that I didn’t do more, sooner. But I have this platform and I want to help. I hope this is a start.”
Former St. Joseph’s star Natasha Cloud, Delle Donne’s teammate, is one of the most vocal players in the WNBA, and she isn’t holding her tongue on this issue. Cloud is sitting the season out to focus on social injustice.