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When Major League Baseball began two domestic-violence investigations last month, allegations against Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell and Tampa Bay Rays catcher Derek Norris did not come from the usual source — a police report, or video, or court testimony.
Instead, they came from social media.
Kristen Eck, Norris’s former fiancée, wrote on Instagram that she had been physically and verbally abused by Norris in 2015. And after Russell’s wife, Melisa, wrote on Instagram that Russell had cheated on her, a friend of Melisa Russell’s posted that Addison Russell had hit his wife in front of his two young children.
Norris, who has since been waived by the Rays, and Russell have denied accusations of abuse. Pat Courtney, an M.L.B. spokesman, confirmed that the league was investigating both cases but declined to say more.
Though the two cases are in their early stages, they highlight a new challenge that baseball faces in addressing domestic violence.
When Major League Baseball and the players’ union jointly developed a policy on the issue nearly two years ago, it was intended to avoid missteps that had plagued other sports, particularly the N.F.L., when it came to investigating instances of domestic violence and meting out punishment.
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But little consideration was given to the role that social media — rather than law enforcement — might play in bringing potential domestic violence cases to light, according to a person in baseball familiar with the drafting of the agreement who was not authorized to speak publicly about it.
The first five cases Major League Baseball investigated under its new policy had evidence that had already been generated by law enforcement or video. In the cases of Norris and Russell, there was none.
This means baseball’s investigators must discern whether the allegations on social media are credible. And though players, under the terms of the new policy, are required to cooperate with those investigators, they may be wary of saying anything that could prompt an investigation by the police.
“Individual players should be cautious,” said Sharlene Boltz, a professor at the Chase College of Law at the Northern Kentucky University. Though the players may have an interest in cooperating, their personal counsel or a union representative “has to be thinking, ‘Will this be used against me? Is it discoverable?’”
Norris told The Tampa Bay Times that he planned to “go above and beyond to assist M.L.B. with their investigation.”
Eck, who did not respond to an email request for an interview, has been cooperating with baseball investigators, but the women involved in Russell’s case have not, according to a person familiar with the case who was not authorized to speak publicly about it. Thomas Field, an attorney for Melisa Russell, who has subsequently filed for divorce, said she would not meet with baseball investigators “at this time.”
He added that “the reason for not now is she doesn’t believe it’s in the best interest of her son and her family.”
M.L.B. investigators have also asked to meet with Melisa Russell’s friend, who made the accusation that Addison Russell had hit his wife, but she has not responded to emails or phone calls.
The cases involving Russell and Norris somewhat mirror those involving the N.F.L. players Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys and Jamison Crowder of the Washington Redskins, in which women posted photos on social media showing injuries they said were caused by the players.
In Elliott’s case, it led to the disclosure of a previous police report. But neither player was disciplined by the N.F.L.
That women have turned to social media to make these statements is a sign that younger people view the medium as a community, and it also underscores the primary objective of abuse victims, according to those who have studied domestic violence.
“They’re not looking for revenge, they’re looking for an end to the abuse,” said Kim Gandy, the chief executive of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. “There’s a lot of conversations about what are the alternatives for victims who are not looking to have their husband or boyfriend go to jail for five years.”
By turning to social media, she added, victims may also be hoping that pressure from peers, or even employers, will stop the abuse.
“You take your chances that if you have a few hundred friends on social media, that at least some of them will pipe up,” Gandy said.
But the world of sports is vastly larger. Sharing on social media not only makes a case very public, but it also enables fans who adore their athletic idols to harass those making the accusations, said Margaret Duval, the executive director of the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic.
Still, Duval said, “the good side of the double-edged sword is there are people who reach out in support, resources can be offered, and there can be a sense of liberation in not holding on to a secret.”
In her post on Instagram, which has since been deleted, Russell wrote: “Being able to make your own choices for your own happiness beats being cheated on, lied to, & disrespected any day. #herestonewbeginnings #onlygetsbetterfromhere”
In a lengthy post on her blog, which detailed the episode of which she had accused Norris of abuse, Eck wrote, “I hope multiple women can read this and get out of controlling situations, abusive situations and mentally and physically draining situations.”
Boltz, the law professor, said public expressions like these on a subject that can be personal and stigmatizing are rare among older people.
“For my parent’s generation, or even my generation, there’s hesitancy in what we let out,” she said. “For myself, as a professor of millennials, they’re a little more relaxed in what they let out. That’s a generational thing: How this present social media plays into decision making, how do I express myself, how do I solve my problems?”
For Major League Baseball, it is no different, making a sometimes complicated and delicate issue even more so.