Big Ten Medal of Honor Q&A: Diane Dietz (1982)
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March 20, 2014

Big Ten Medal of Honor 100th Anniversary
Michigan's Big Ten Medal of Honor Recipients

In recognition of the 100th anniversary of the Big Ten Medal of Honor, the Michigan Athletic Department will be profiling some distinguished student-athlete alumni who received this prestigious academic and athletic honor.

Diane Dietz is the all-time leading scorer in Michigan women's basketball history with 2,076 points. She excelled in the classroom as a three-time Academic All-American, earning second team honors in 1980 and first team accolades in 1981 and 1982. Dietz was inducted into the Academic All-America Hall of Fame in 2009 for her achievement as a student-athlete. On the court, Dietz set the Big Ten single-game scoring record with 45 points against Illinois in 1982, a mark that stood for 22 years. She was among the first female athletes to receive the Big Ten Medal of Honor as a senior in 1982. In 1996, Dietz became the first women's basketball player inducted into the U-M Hall of Honor. She is currently the chief communications officer for the Big Ten Conference.

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Diane Dietz

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I thought it was one of the most magnificent awards that I had ever received. It looked cool. It felt cool. I sensed immediately that it had a historical significance.
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Diane Dietz

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It's hard for me to imagine that I was in the first class of female student-athletes to receive the Medal of Honor, but it certainly gives the recognition added significance for me.
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Diane Dietz
Q
What was your favorite memory as a student-athlete?
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Well, one was the (John) Wangler-to-(Anthony) Carter touchdown pass against Indiana. The thrill of experiencing that outcome, with that team, in real-time, embodied, for me, the essence of the on-campus experience for all student-athletes at the University of Michigan. I knew how important both academics and athletics were to so many of the young men and women with whom I attended school. I knew John and Anthony as students and as athletes. It was as interesting for me to participate on the women's basketball team as it was to follow the careers of other student-athletes, and that touchdown pass was just one of those great memories where it all came together for me -- what an amazing opportunity we had all been given. It was really neat.
 
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What was special about your experience on the Michigan campus?
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The fact that I was both a student and an athlete. I recognized how special that was even while it was happening. I remember making a conscious decision to never miss a single class because I didn't want to be seen as just an athlete. I wanted people to know that I was at Michigan to go to school. I also remember deciding that I would never wear blue jeans or tennis shoes to class. I didn't want to be an athlete in class, I wanted to be a student. Those may have been little things, but the separation mattered to me. I didn't want to prioritize one over the other -- they were both important. And the athletic challenges, the games, training and travel, made me much more disciplined and prepared for the academic challenges.
 
Q
What is the best lesson that you learned at Michigan?
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It goes back to what I was just saying, it really comes down to time management. I have been told that if you need something done you should ask a busy person. The more scheduled your day is the more efficient you are with your time -- which frees up additional time, counterintuitively, to accomplish other things. That is a lesson that I took with me to every job that I've ever had and to everything that I've ever done. When we were at Michigan we knew that we had from eight o'clock to two o'clock for classes. Late afternoons and evenings were for practice, meals and homework. My academic and athletic advisors instilled that mindset in me and it still applies today. The busier I am, the better I am.

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How did Michigan prepare you for life after athletics?
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Looking back, I realized that the University of Michigan essentially picked up exactly where my parents had left off, and I was very grateful for that. When you show up on campus, it's the first time that you're away from home and you need to learn very quickly how to be both responsible and accountable. Our parents weren't there to tell us what to do: stand up straight, look them in the eye, articulate, be on time, and keep your nose clean. But when I got to Michigan, it was as though my parents had come with me. There were so many people there that supported us and wanted us to succeed. Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned was resilience. You can be devastated after a loss, or even after a lousy play, but you have to get back up. In the long run, you become less fearful of failure. I've heard it said that the person with the shortest memory has the greatest chance for success. I've enjoyed three very different careers now and there was an unpredictable path to each one. I was fearless about each new opportunity because of the resilience that I had developed while competing and attending classes at Michigan.
 
Q
What are your three careers you referenced?
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I graduated from the University of Michigan and went to law school in Lansing. After graduating from law school, I worked for a litigation firm for three years and then joined a law firm that specialized in business. My focus there was in the cable television industry. I fell in love with the cable industry and with my business communications background thought that it was a really nice fit. I eventually went to work for a cable company in Michigan, Comcast, and was in the cable industry for about 15 years. After spending three years in Philadelphia as senior vice president of the Comcast Foundation and senior director of public affairs, I was ready to move back to the Midwest. My nieces and nephews were growing up fast and I wanted to be a part of that on a daily basis. It was about that time that I met Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. I knew almost immediately that the Big Ten Conference would be a great fit and a wonderful opportunity. I felt as though my professional career and my time at Michigan as a student-athlete had come full circle.
 
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Do you remember when you were announced and received the Medal of Honor?
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I do. I thought it was one of the most magnificent awards that I had ever received. It looked cool. It felt cool. I sensed immediately that it had a historical significance. It had the date it was created and the sculptor's initials engraved on the medal. I loved that it recognized both academics and athletics and said so right on the award. Both of those things were really important to me, so to receive an award that honored both was extremely meaningful. Since joining the Big Ten Conference, I have learned so much more about it and feel honored to be here as the conference celebrates the medal's 100th anniversary.
 
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Does the award have any greater significance to you since you were part
of the first group of female recipients of the Big Ten Medal of Honor?
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Absolutely. It didn't occur to me then, because I was just doing what every other student-athlete was doing -- passionately participating in a sport that I loved. While I was aware of Title IX at the time, I wasn't entirely aware of its historical significance or where my particular experience fell in the timeline. I was thrilled about the opportunities provided to me by the University of Michigan. I was playing basketball against other Big Ten schools in Big Ten basketball arenas. We frequently played doubleheaders with the men's team. I was traveling to other Big Ten campuses, meeting coaches like Bob Knight, Gene Keady and Jud Heathcote, and watching student-athletes like Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson. It's hard for me to imagine that I was in the first class of female student-athletes to receive the Medal of Honor, but it certainly gives the recognition added significance for me. Some of the men who have received it include John Wooden, Jerry Lucas, Tony Dungy, Joe Girardi, Bob Griese and Drew Brees -- Wow! And so many amazing women have received it, too -- Anucha Browne, Katie Smith, Sharon Versyp and Beth Wymer. It's humbling beyond words. I still get very emotional thinking about the opportunities provided to me, and I take very seriously the obligation to pay it forward.
 
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How much great significance does the Big Ten Medal of Honor have to you?
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The history, tradition and meaning behind the award is what makes it so significant to me. Particularly now, in my role as chief communications officer at the Big Ten. The 100th anniversary of the award is a great opportunity to tell its story. It was 100 years ago that the founders of the Big Ten Conference created an award intended to demonstrate the importance of the educational emphasis placed on athletics. The message can be easily lost in the frequent headlines surrounding such issues as pay-for-play and the unionization of student-athletes. I hope that the medal can be a reminder of why the collegiate model has worked so well and for so long. As each institution presents the award this year, it will be yet another opportunity to talk about the award's rich history and tradition and to demonstrate, through its recipients, the many benefits of the collegiate model.


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