WNBA crit­i­cized over de­nial of Delle Donne’s med­i­cal waiver

Jeff Zill­gitt col­umn: WNBA should be called for a foul in MVP’s case on 2020 pay.

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Jeff Zill­gitt Colum­nist

The WNBA’s at­tempt to play its 2020 sea­son had a good start when it ded­i­cated its sea­son to so­cial jus­tice. Since then, it’s been marred by con­tro­versy. There’s the dis­trac­tion from Dream co-owner Kelly Lo­ef­fler, a U.S. sen­a­tor who dis­misses Black Lives Mat­ter, and the right­ful back­lash she re­ceived from WNBA play­ers and its union, who do not want her own­ing any part of a team. Now, the league has been hit with an­other dis­trac­tion. A panel of physi­cians has de­nied 2019 WNBA MVP and cham­pion Elena Delle Donne’s re­quest to opt out of the 2020 sea­son be­cause of med­i­cal con­cerns. This is a hor­ri­ble look for the WNBA, and one that should be rec­ti­fied. Delle Donne, who has chronic Lyme disease, was ad­vised by her doc­tor that she is at high risk for con­tract­ing and hav­ing com­pli­ca­tions from COVID-19. How­ever, the panel dis­agreed, con­clud­ing she is not a high-risk per­son. That means if she de­cides not to play, she won’t be paid. The panel is three-pronged and sim­i­lar to the NBA’s pro­to­col: one doc­tor is ap­pointed by the WNBA, one doc­tor ap­pointed by the Women’s Na­tional Bas­ket­ball Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion and a physi­cian ap­pointed by agree­ment of the WNBA and WNBPA. Ma­jor­ity vote rules. The WNBA should re­con­sider. Given her de­sire to com­pete and pos­si­bly win a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive cham­pi­onship, Delle Donne is not a player look­ing to skip out on a short­ened sea­son just be­cause she doesn’t want to play. Also worth adding: The Mys­tics’ team doc­tor has cleared her to play but said Delle Donne should be con­sid­ered high risk, ac­cord­ing to ESPN. Delle Donne is look­ing out for her short- and long-term health. While Lyme disease isn’t on the Cen­ters for Disease Con­trol and Preven­tion’s list of con­di­tions that might put an in­di­vid­ual at in­creased risk or the pos­si­bil­ity of in­creased risk, im­mune de­fi­cien­cies are listed. There are stud­ies that in­di­cate Lyme disease has an im­pact on the im­mune sys­tem, and there are some doctors who be­lieve those with Lyme disease are at a higher risk for COVID-19 and com­pli­ca­tions from the virus. Dur­ing a pan­demic when player health and safety are ex­pressed as para­mount by the NBA and WNBA, the WNBA missed a chance to ac­knowl­edge a star player’s health con­cern and act with com­pas­sion and un­der­stand­ing. I un­der­stand the physi­cian’s panel. The league and play­ers agreed to that method, and Delle Donne has to, for now, live that de­ci­sion. But she’s faced with “mak­ing a choice be­tween what’s best for her from a health stand­point and what’s best for her from a fi­nan­cial stand­point for her and her fam­ily,” her agent, Erin Kane, told ESPN. It un­der­scores the prob­lem oth­ers in the U.S. are fac­ing. The WNBA is in po­si­tion to do some­thing about it. A $215,000 salary is at stake. But much more, too. Kane said her client’s ini­tial re­ac­tion was dis­be­lief. What will dis­be­lief be­come? Frus­tra­tion? Anger? Dis­ap­point­ment? With its MVP, a play­ers union vice pres­i­dent, mar­ketable star and Olympian at the crux of the is­sue, does the WNBA want to know?


Mys­tics for­ward Elena Delle Donne has chronic Lyme disease and was ad­vised by her doc­tor that she is at high risk for con­tract­ing and hav­ing com­pli­ca­tions from COVID-19.

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