Everything was perfectly situated in the Camden Yards banquet hall Thursday evening. The assortment of school-colored balloons swayed brightly over the white cloth-covered tables. Surrounding the tables, the University of North Carolina athletes waited patiently in uniform-like navy blazers and khaki pants. A large "2006 ACC Lacrosse Championships" sign dangled behind two nameless, shining trophies.

A blue and white elephant settled quietly in the middle of the room.

For the first time, the then-rated No. 1 Duke Women?s Lacrosse team attended the annual Atlantic Coast Conference welcome-banquet without their male counterpart team and no formal mention of the absence or the allegations was made.

For the nine teams in attendance, Brandi Stuart, the assistant director of championships of the ACC, instead offered cheerful welcoming words ? sidestepping the obvious non-attendance of the Duke?s men?s lacrosse team.

Delia Cox, the Maryland midfield extraordinaire, provided the evening?s invocation and expressed relief that "we all made it here safely," again ignoring the obvious.

In fact, the only comment relating to the Duke controversy was barely audible. Prior to the announcement of the Men?s ACC Coach of the Year (Virginia?s Dom Starsia), to the amusement of his immature tablemates, someone whispered "Mike Pressler."

Why was the only mention of the Duke Lacrosse team at the ACC banquet in the form of a cruel and humorless joke?

The Blue Devils have already experienced enough insult.

Immediately following the rape allegations, Durham erupted into a volatile racial storm. The students, faculty and residents united in protest to unfairly blame the entire lacrosse team ? except for the one black player ? for every single prejudice problem plaguing the town.

Even after the evidence compiled seemed to point toward innocence, the media nonetheless continued to frame the stories around the alleged guilt of the team. Along the same lines, instead of emphasizing the facts that the DNA tests provided no evidence of rape, and one of the indicted players presented several alibis, a majority of news outlets opted to reassert analysis of the allegations.

From there, without a moment?s hesitation to consider the implications of the charges or question the likelihood of the accusations, the public assumed all-engulfing guilt. Many hold an unchangeable view that the 46 rich "meatheads" single-handedly tarred the university?s name.

On top of all that, now fellow ACC lacrosse players are going to join in the smearing?

One would instead expect lacrosse players to unite over the issue to defend the integrity of their beloved sport. Expect the players to aid in a campaign to clear the sport?s name. Expect the players to demonstrate that most lacrosse players are not at all malicious "dumb jocks."

And in reality, that quest should not prove too difficult.

As a whole, the Duke men?s lacrosse team is one of the most academically talented in the country. Almost three-fourths of the team made the ACC Academic Honor Role for the 2004-2005 year, a trend not atypical for the Blue Devils.

How many people so quick to shout "meatheads" maintain similar scholarly excellence?

Along with academics, the athletic prestige of the Blue Devil lacrosse is unparalleled. Dedication, hard work and physical training embody the program.

Since 1948, Duke has produced 37 All-Americans, earning the honor for a total of 57 times.

How many people so quick to judge engage in similar activity?

And of course, the 16 years under Coach Pressler saw the program turnaround from non-competitive to nationally ranked. Prior to the allegations, Pressler was the Coach Krzyzewski of lacrosse.

How many people so quick to vilify Pressler maintain such credentials?

Currently the Duke men?s lacrosse team faces the unwarranted rage of a public influenced by harsh and unfair stereotypes. Too few voices have spoken out on behalf of the players, allowing the generalizations and stereotypes to run amuck.

Black or white, rich or poor, intelligent or feebleminded, athlete or student, everyone is entitled the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Even Duke?s lacrosse players.

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