When Mioshi Johnson first met Ray and Janay Rice in 2012, she thought they were one of the most loving couples she’d ever seen.
“They were the first family that we met when we went to Baltimore,” Johnson, the wife of Rice’s former Ravens teammate Chris Johnson, tells PEOPLE. “They are always just so affectionate to each other.”
The Baltimore Ravens released Rice from his contract on Monday after footage from a newly released video surfaced online, showing what appears to be the football player punching his then-fiancée unconscious in a hotel elevator in February. The couple wed a month later.
A day after Rice was let go, Janay slammed the media in a post on her private Instagram account, writing: “THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels.”
While no one from the outside can know for sure, domestic violence experts doubt the incident was the first time. Furthermore, they say it’s common for a victim of domestic violence to make excuses for her partner.
“If you look at the videotape and [Rice’s] reaction following the incident, this is most likely not the first time something like this has happened in their relationship,” says Angela Parker, director of training and programs at Jenesse Center in Los Angeles, a domestic abuse treatment facility.
“No one likes to see themselves as a victim,” Parker, who has no professional relationship with the Rices, adds. “So what you tend to see is a lot of rationalization and people trying to take some of the power back that they lost during the abuse by saying ‘it’s not that bad.’ ”
Rice and his wife showed a united front when they made their first public appearance since the release of the video, attending a football game with their baby daughter at New Rochelle High School in New York on Saturday.
Domestic violence expert and author of When Good Men Behave Badly, Dr. David B. Wexler, says it’s possible that a couple can appear affectionate in public yet still have an abusive relationship. “This happens all the time,” he tells PEOPLE. “We are most emotionally vulnerable to the people we are closest to, and this can lead to an otherwise ‘nice guy’ to show a dark side at home that no one else ever sees.”
Johnson says she recently spoke with Janay, who she says “is in a place of hurt” over the media coverage of the incident.
“It’s embarrassing for her and her family,” Johnson says. “This happened months ago, and everything could have been reviewed then. They never lied about what happened in the elevator when they were asked by the police and the NFL.”
She adds: “She is really hurt but they’re trying to be strong together.”