Elena Delle Donne, the W.N.B.A.’s reigning most valuable player, said she had been denied a medical waiver for the league’s abbreviated season, which begins July 25.
Had she received the waiver, Delle Donne, who has struggled with Lyme disease for more than a decade, would have been able to sit out while still being paid for the season. Now if she chooses not to play, she will not be paid.
Delle Donne, 30, made the revelation to ESPN. She said she had not yet made a decision on whether to play. She is the star player for the defending champions, the Washington Mystics.
The decision to deny her the waiver came from a panel of doctors, selected jointly by the league and the players’ union. Delle Donne said her personal physician had advised her not to play because of an increased risk of contracting and suffering complications from Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“I love my team, and we had an unbelievable season last year, and I want to play,” she told ESPN. “But the question is whether or not the W.N.B.A. bubble is safe for me.”
The league has not commented on Delle Donne’s case, and it ordinarily does not comment on such matters because of medical privacy issues.
The W.N.B.A. plans to hold its season in Bradenton, Fla. Like other professional leagues, it will test players for the coronavirus, keep them in a “bubble” to reduce the risk of transmission and not allow fans at games.
Despite such precautions, a number of players in various sports, including some stars, have decided not to play in their makeshift seasons. Among them are Megan Rapinoe of the National Women’s Soccer League, Ryan Zimmerman, Buster Posey and David Price of Major League Baseball and Wilson Chandler of the N.B.A.
The W.N.B.A.’s regular season, shortened to 22 games per team, will run until Sept. 12 with the playoffs to follow.
Delle Donne is perhaps the biggest star in the league. A 6-foot-5 forward who is notably mobile for her height, she spent four seasons in Chicago before being traded to Washington in 2017, culminating in her second M.V.P. Award and first league title last season.
Delle Donne has been a high-profile player since high school. After initially planning to play for powerhouse Connecticut, she opted to go to Delaware to remain closer to home. She led the normally unheralded Blue Hens to the final 16 in her senior year, and was selected second over all in the W.N.B.A. draft in 2013.
She is unusual among W.N.B.A. stars in that she has not played very much for teams overseas, where the players generally earn the bulk of their income.
A Mystics teammate, Tina Charles, has also applied for a waiver to skip the season. She and Delle Donne were not with the team in Florida while they awaited the panel’s decisions. Teams that lose players to medical waivers may not be permitted to sign replacements, depending on their salary cap situation.