Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne – per a panel of doctors chosen by the WNBA and its union – doesn’t face elevated risk of severe symptoms if she contracts coronavirus. That meant the Mystics wouldn’t have to pay her if she sits out this season. Delle Donne has publicly argued her Lyme disease should have medically excused her from the WNBA season, allowing her to collect her full salary.
Like many people amid the pandemic, Delle Donne faced a hard decision: Work and risk exposure to coronavirus or miss out on money and stay safer.
The Mystics have solved her dilemma – agreeing to pay her while she remains away from the team.
Mystics general manager/coach Mike Thibault, via Tyler Byrum of NBC Sports Washington:
“She is being paid and is continuing to rehab from her offseason back surgery. If at some point later in the season, we are all comfortable – I mean all comfortable – enough with both her physical progress and the safety of joining the team in Florida, then we will make those arrangements. If we don’t feel that she will continue to do the workouts in D.C., and get herself ready for the following season.”
“We can do anything we want,” Thibault said. “We have intended to [pay her] from the start. She’s a major part of our team and she’s making every effort to do the rehab that she needs to do.”
“I have told her that there is not going to be pressure put on her to hurry back, I don’t want — I’m in this and she’s in this for the long haul,” Thibault said.
If the Mystics truly planned all along to pay Delle Donne, her public-relations campaign the last couple days seems excessive.
But it’s also possible the public pressure she raised contributed to this decision.
As reigning WNBA MVP, Delle Donne had leverage that other players don’t. That’s why I’m surprised this was up to the Mystics. Other WNBA teams don’t want to face increasing pressure to pay any players who want to sit out. That’s why the panel of doctors existed in the first place.
Perhaps, Delle Donne’s back injury gave Washington a workaround. That’s a reasonable excuse for Delle Donne not reporting while still getting paid. Is the WNBA really going to investigate the Mystics’ assessment of their own player’s physical health when the player agrees?
This is a good outcome for Delle Donne. She made herself so valuable to her employer that it’ll pay her not to work. That’s a heck of an accomplishment by her.
We’ll see how much, if any, of a precedent it sets.