If life were fair, sports probably wouldn’t be. We wouldn’t need the comfort of knowing that somewhere, somehow, there are rules designed to give every competitor in every game the possibility of victory.

No matter how remote that possibility, we know it exists.

And while life offers the possibility of victory, it abides by no rule book, per se. That was painfully obvious Tuesday, when three people who had dedicated most of their professional lives to The News Journal sports department lost their jobs as part of buildingwide layoffs at the newspaper.

I’m not here to assign blame or hold Tom Cobourn, Kevin Noonan and Kris Pope above the thousands of other Americans who have lost their jobs in this recession. I am here simply to tell you, and them, that Tom, Kevin and Kris always will be part of this sports department because they were far more than "co-workers."

Kevin and Tom each spent more than 25 years at the paper. While Kevin maintained a very public profile later in his tenure as Eagles beat writer and then the department’s primary columnist, Tom’s contribution came most recently behind the scenes. After several years as our 76ers beat writer, Tom moved to the night copy desk. That’s where he was when I came to the paper to lay out sports pages in 1998. Tom was sports copy desk chief until Tuesday.

Kris joined the paper about five years ago as its Delaware State beat writer. An investigative reporter in a sportswriter’s body, Kris is one of the most passionate journalists I have known in my 15 years in the business.

But beyond the work they did every day, Tom, Kevin and Kris forged identities in the family that is The News Journal sports department. I grew to know Tom the best because he and I worked together at night for several years. He was the patriarch of the night sports operation. When some of us acted like little kids (not unusual in a sports department), Tom kept us in line. No yelling, no screaming. Just a glance or a comment and we knew that "Dad" didn’t approve. When we were behaving, Tom’s news judgment and mentoring ability helped shape the section night in and night out.

Kevin and Kris, like most sportswriters, spent most of their working days outside the office. But when they did come into the newsroom, their presence provided those of us moored to the office with a fresh face and a fresh conversation. Kris, especially, loved to ask his colleagues about stories they were working on or engage in general sports banter. Whether it was DSU sports, horse racing, NASCAR or boxing, Kris was far better at engaging colleagues than I’ll ever be. When Kevin visited the newsroom he never shied from expressing his opinion (isn’t that what a columnist should do?), but he didn’t hesitate to accept that he might be wrong … occasionally.

Everybody in the sports department knows something about each other’s personal life. We don’t all hang out outside the office, but we know each other’s spouses and kids, watching the latter grow up all too fast. And we care when someone in the sports department, or one of their family members, is sick. We care so much for our co-workers because working for a newspaper never has lent itself to having much of a personal life. Sportswriters cover day games and night games and spend hours upon hours in cars and airplanes. Night editors leave home before dinnertime and don’t return until after midnight.

In other words, like many with specialized jobs, who else are we going to have for friends?

Although I sat there powerless as each was told their job had been eliminated, I hope Tom, Kris and Kevin know they’re still part of our family. But I wouldn’t hold it against them if they felt otherwise.

Jason Levine is sports editor for the The News Journal.

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