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Sports fans' hatred of departed players is misguided and unfair

The NBA free agency period is showing us why professional athletes can't win when it comes to signing new contracts.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Professional athletes make a disproportionately large amount of money compared to the general American populace. Therefore, it's usually fairly easy for fans to quantify their anger when these players make unpopular financial decisions. Kevin Durant, for example, recently signed a multiyear contract to join the Golden State Warriors, which gives the reigning Wester Conference Champions four NBA All-Stars in its starting lineup.

Durant, who was originally drafted second overall by the Seattle Supersonics (currently the Oklahoma City Thunder), is a seven-time All-Star and the most recent NBA MVP not named Stephen Curry.  Durant, who will make just north of $27 million in 2016-17, actually took a pay cut to join Golden State; a team that set the all-time single-season wins record last season. For this reason, fans of the other 29 franchises are furious that Durant has essentially become the missing link in a modern super team; he's "chasing titles," some observers say.

Collectively, we hate players who leave the teams we love. Throngs of cowardly Cleveland Cavaliers fans (including their spineless owner, Dan Gilbert) lined the streets of Cleveland and cheered their hearts out for Lebron James after he delivered Cleveland its first major championship since 1964. Five years earlier, many of the same fans lined those same streets to burn their Lebron James merchandise after he signed a contract with the Miami Heat.

To this day, many Steelers fans, including many of you, still greet any mentions of Mike Wallace (a former Pro Bowl receiver, for the laymen) with audible laughter. Wallace, unlike Durant and James, however, appeared to be chasing dollars when he signed a $60 million contract with the Miami Dolphins.

At this point, players can't win. Players who sign max contracts with other teams are considered by many fans to be "greedy" and only interested in financial gain. If a player takes a pay cut to join a team of all-stars, his "legacy takes a hit" since he's not willing to stay put and win those titles himself. If a player does fulfill the fans' wishes and re-signs with his current team, he's buying himself about 12-16 months until those same fans blame him for the team's struggles.

If you take a promotion and move to another floor (or city, or state), you usually receive a nice cake and cards full of well wishes. "Best of luck on your future endeavors," writes Jen from human resources. Even your old boss shakes your hand one last time before you walk out of her building for good. Nobody lines the street to protest your departure. Nobody burns your J. Crew shirts and ties. Your boss doesn't write an open letter in which she calls you a coward. Bettering yourself is always viewed as cause for celebration in modern society, so why is this any different for athletes?

Before your tear me apart in the comments, the aforementioned question is rhetorical.  I know why people get upset, but I've yet to hear a good answer.

Mike Wallace, at the time of his departure, was my favorite player on the Steelers. Obviously, it stung when he left, but even a 21-year-old me understood why he did it.

And Steelers fans could be facing a similar scenario very soon, as RB Le'Veon Bell seemingly announced his contract demands in his newest rap song:

"I'm at the top; if not, I'm the closest. Imma need 15 a year and they know this."

In other words, Bell wants $15 million per year, which would make him the highest paid running back in NFL history.

Now, I'm don't know anyone in Pittsburgh's front office, but I am 150% sure that the Steelers will not offer Bell $15 million per year. Another team, however, might be willing to meet Bell's demands, in which case he would certainly be within his rights to leave Pittsburgh. Bell plays one of the most physically-demanding positions in professional sports, and he has already suffered two very major knee injuries. He is perhaps more cognizant of the frailty of an NFL career than anyone else in the league. Get paid while you can.

If Bell does leave next spring, many fans will unfairly tear him apart. Some people will burn his jersey. If he returns to Pittsburgh as a member of a different team, some fans will boo him simply because he wanted to do what's best for himself and his family.

Before you find yourself becoming furious at professional athletes for seeking personal prosperity, put yourself in their shoes.